Training for Better Cycling: Hill Climbing without Tiring

Summit Ave. Brighton/Brookline  12 degree slope
Summit Ave. Brighton/Brookline 12 degree slope

Pace is the Key

Pace, that is the number of revolutions per minute at which you turn your pedals, is the most important factor to think about when planning your hill-climbing strategy. Too fast or two slow - either of these will tire you faster than keeping an even pace.

To cultivate an even pace for yourself, work on it first in relatively flat terrain. Experiment. Find the pace that's right for you on the flat. When you think you have found it, find a good sized, but not ridiculously high or steep hill and try it out there. You may find that your pace is already right on target for hill climbing, or you may find that you must adjust your pace up or down. The ideal is that you will feel comfortable maintaining your pace while staying in the saddle during 95% of your typical hill climb.

A faster pace is easier to maintain over a long ride.  Train yourself, therefore, to pedal faster. 

Interval Training

A good way to speed up your pace is through interval training. Once or twice a week, map out a ride over varied terrain and devote the ride to interval training.

In interval training, you alternate fast and hard pace with slow and easy pace something like this:

  • 10 minutes easy pedaling on flat terrain
  • 5 minutes pedaling as fast as you can in a lower (easier) gear on flat terrain
  • 10 minutes easy pedaling and coasting
  • 10 minutes pedaling as fast as you can up a hill
  • 20 minutes easy pedaling
  • etc.

You can change the durations to suit your needs, but the idea is to alternate between easy pedaling intervals and all-out, heart pounding intervals. An interval training session should last a half and hour to an hour. Over time you will see your pace increase.

Try to Stay in the Saddle

According to Bicycling Magazine, your most efficient climbing position is in the saddle. If you need to stand briefly to achieve or maintain your pace or give your knees a rest, that's okay, but most of the time you are better off if you stay seated. Your legs expend more strength in the standing position than the seated position. To maintain strength over the course of a long ride, you are better off staying in the saddle.

Climb Hills

Not to state the obvious or anything, but the best way to get comfortable climbing hills at an even pace is to go do it.

Plan a route that includes several good sized hills for say, fifteen to thirty miles and try to bike that route a few times a week. You'll be surprised how soon those hills get easier.

Good luck and happy hill-climbing!

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Comments 11 comments

Candie V profile image

Candie V 7 years ago from Whereever there's wolves!! And Bikers!! Cummon Flash, We need an adventure!

I hate hills, ours average 5%. This was great info, I'm gonna bookmark it for later. Bicycling Mag! I used to get it! There was an article about 5 years ago that got my heart.. I wrote a letter to the editor and he published it, in huge letters right in the middle of the page.. I have it around here somewhere.. My first time at being published..woohoo!


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 7 years ago from United States Author

Great story, Candie! I get Bicycling free with my Performance Bike Team membership which is like a rebate program from http://www.performancebike.com

The magazine has really great info.


Tatjana-Mihaela profile image

Tatjana-Mihaela 7 years ago from Zadar, CROATIA

Like Candie, I do not like hills while riding the bycicle, only when I go down, he, he.

Good Hub, as always.


Christa Dovel profile image

Christa Dovel 7 years ago from The Rocky Mountains, North America

I'll have to admit, I only like cruisers, and flat land is preferred. Changing gears freaks me out!


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 7 years ago from United States Author

You know, Tatjana, I'm pretty fast uphill as old geezers go, but I always take it slow when I go down.

Changing gears is often overrated, Christa, but handy if you want to ride 100 miles in a day.


spradlig 7 years ago from Colorado

I live in Colorado where we have plenty of hills. In fact when I bike to work (which isn't as often as it should be) I have to climb a very a steep hill. The hill is in th middle of my commute so I get to climb it going both ways.

I have a cadence meter for my bike which helps me maintain a steady RPM for the pedals. Everyone will find their own sweet spot but I find mine is about 85 RPM. Much above 88 and it feels like I'm moving my legs a lot without making much forward progress. Much below 80 and it starts to feel like a lot of work.

Climbing a hill for 15 minutes I do on my way home is hard enough at the right cadence. Stay in your saddle, stay in a gear that allows you to maintain a high cadence, and focus on your breathing until you get to the top.


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 7 years ago from United States Author

Sounds like your technique is flawless, Spradlig!

Experts say, to build strength, stand and pedal for a short time at the beginning of the slope then sit and hammer at higher-than-comfortable RPM almost to the summit, as if passing a peloton, then stand again and accelerate through the summit.

Personally I just to it Spradlig's way :0)


Shelly Bryant profile image

Shelly Bryant 6 years ago from Singapore and/or Shanghai

Great hub! I have gotten out of shape this year with my cycling, and have found as I am getting back to it that the hills are real killers.


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 6 years ago from United States Author

This, too, shall pass. Keep riding! :)


umer nabi 5 years ago

i am lover of hill cycling i like long hills


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 5 years ago from United States Author

That is a great way to be, Umer!

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