- - Top Climbing Tips for Cycling – How to Get Faster at Cycling Uphill

Top Climbing Tips for Cycling – How to Get Faster at Cycling Uphill

article by Evoq Bike’s Landry Bobo

You’ve seen them, and probably ridden with them–the natural climbers that seem to fly up the mountains with ease, dancing on the pedals. How do they do it? Is it purely power-to-weight ratio and a lighter body, or is it more about technique and biomechanics?

There’s no one correct answer, but being a good climber is multifaceted, and it takes time and practice to get good at it. A time trialist must spend time training in an aerodynamic position, a sprinter must work on their sprinting technique, and climbers must acquire a unique set of skills that will help them get better at climbing for cycling.

In this article, we’ll provide guidance on what is needed to improve your power-to-weight ratio and get better at climbing for cycling. From training to technique, to equipment and nutrition, there are multitudes of ways you can improve your climbing skills.

Cycling Climbing Technique

The first thing I want to discuss is probably the thing that is overlooked the most, and that is cycling climbing technique. In the age of power meters, many of us have become so fixated on power numbers that we give little regard to how we actually produce that power.

You’ve probably noticed that riding up an 8% grade feels a lot different than riding on flat roads. The momentum shifts and torque outputs will change dramatically, you’ll begin to work different muscles in different ways and your body position will shift on the bike to produce power more efficiently.

It’s great if you can produce 300 watts for 30 minutes on a flat road, but can you do this on a climb as well? I’ve known riders that have CRAZY power numbers on the flats, and also theoretically should have a good power-to-weight ratio to do well on the climbs. Yet for some reason, when the road tilts up, their power goes down.

Many of these riders live in flat areas or do almost all their training indoors where there is no real-world terrain to influence their pedaling dynamics. In essence, they have not translated their raw power to excel on the climbs.

How do you cycle uphill efficiently? Here are a few tips that will allow you to produce the most power on a climb.

Climb Climb Climb!

How do you practice climbing for cycling? It seems obvious, but if you want to get really good at climbing, you need to climb! If you go out and ride up climbs every day, you will have ample opportunity to perfect your technique and adapt your body to climb more efficiently.

One problem that people encounter while training on the climbs is that they are not mindful of their climbing technique. Their core isn’t engaged, their cadence drops too low and they begin pedaling squares. On the other hand, some athletes haven’t done enough torque training and they pedal in too easy of a gear when they really need to add a little extra torque.  Every time you are on a climb, you can practice refining your technique.

When I first moved to the Appalachians of North Carolina, I was shocked at the ruggedness of the terrain. There was no avoiding big, steep climbs and after 4+ hours of riding up wicked gradients, my legs were cooked.

In that part of the country, there isn’t a flat road in sight and you have no option but to climb.! This forced me to practice climbing on every single ride, and over time my body adapted to this. I can certainly say I’m much better at climbing steep hills than I was a few years ago simply by climbing every day.

Now of course, you might be reading this saying “I don’t have any climbs to train on so this doesn’t really help!”

If you don’t have easy access to climbs, while you won’t be able to practice climbing regularly, there are a few tricks you can use to prepare yourself for your next climbing event.

One great way to improve climbing for cycling is training indoors on Zwift. Ride on free-ride mode with 100% resistance. This will help simulate what riding up climbs feels like. Since your bike won’t be tilting with the road like it would outdoors, it won’t be exactly the same, but it can still help simulate the torque outputs needed for climbing.

Another great way to improve climbing is with low cadence torque training for cycling. This can be done on an indoor trainer if you live in a flat region. I will talk about this more in the next section where we discuss workouts to improve your climbing for cycling.

Watch The Pros

In my early days of cycling, I’d watch a lot of bike racing during summer break when there wasn’t anything else to do (ahh youthful bliss). I was obsessed with it. I knew the name of every rider on every team, their strengths and weaknesses, and I religiously watched every race I could find.

Yes, it was entertaining, but I was also taking notes. These guys were the best in the world for a reason and there was a lot to learn.

…Calm expression, deep breathing, intense focus, engaged core, rock solid torso, dancing on the pedals around the corners, RIPPING the descents…

I always dreamed of racing grand tours and flying up climbs in the front group and I figured, if I could replicate their technique on the climbs, I could probably get a lot faster at climbing. I’d watch a bike race, then vicariously go ride my bike in the hills, dreaming of future Tour de France glory!

Aside from technique, you can also learn a lot about race tactics from watching cycling races, so next time you sit down to watch the Tour or a spring classic, bring your pen and paper.

See Also: Train Like a Tour de France Cyclist and Get Faster

Core Exercises For Cyclists

Core strength for cycling is underrated. As important as it is, we’ve all put core training on the back burner before. It can almost seem trivial at times, “How is this going to make me ride a bike faster?” But hear me out, having a strong core can dramatically improve your climbing ability.

Why does cycling core strength matter? Since your femurs and thigh muscles (which provide a lot of the locomotion to pedal your bike) are attached to your pelvis, your pelvis must remain very stable to continue to put out power on a steep climb. The muscles responsible for keeping a stable pelvis are your core muscles.

You’ve probably experienced it, or at least seen someone else do it, but when you are suffering up a steep climb your form can start to deteriorate. Your torso starts rocking and your pelvis begins to come unglued from the rest of your body. You will have a much harder time generating power through the legs if your core is not engaged and keeping your pelvis locked and stable in the saddle.

Another thing that has really made a difference in my cycling is glute activation exercises for cycling. The glutes are a powerful muscle used for cycling, yet many people actually aren’t even using them!

By training glute activation for cycling, you can bring in extra muscle to help increase your power output. Increasing glute activation can also take some work away from your thigh muscles and mitigate muscular fatigue while climbing. You can read our blog on glute activation exercises for cycling to learn more.

See Also: The Best Glute Activation Exercises For Cycling

Ride Out of The Saddle

Another major component of climbing is the ability to ride out of the saddle. When you hit a really steep grade, it can become difficult to generate power in the saddle. By standing up, you can work some different muscles and increase your hip angle to generate power on the steepest of grades.

On a long climb, by getting out of the saddle every few minutes, you can give certain muscles a break while working others. You will notice a big difference in your ability to sustain a power output for long periods.

I have ridden with cyclists who don’t know how to ride out of the saddle and it is definitely something worth practicing if you’ve never done it before. If you don’t have big climbs nearby, it’s likely you still have smaller hills and you can practice riding out of the saddle on hills.

The best way to get better at riding out of the saddle is to just go out and practice, but I can highlight a few things to be conscious of:

•Use Your Arms for Support: Half of riding out of the saddle is actually about your arms. The first time people try to ride out of the saddle, they often don’t support themselves with their arms and are practically falling over the handlebars. Keep your shoulders locked in and grip tight as you get out of the saddle.

•Let the Bike Flow: When you get out of the saddle, don’t worry about keeping your bike in a static position, there should be some sway. Focus on a smooth pedal stroke and let the bike naturally follow with the motion.

•Pull Up: An exercise in the gym that helps with riding out of the saddle is bent over rows as they will help improve arm strength and endurance needed for unseated climbing. While you are riding out of the saddle, your arm motion might feel similar to doing single-arm bent-over rows. You will be pulling on the handlebars on the side of whatever leg is on the upstroke.

•Round the Pedals: Another thing to be mindful of is your pedal stroke. A common mistake with riding out of the saddle is that a “dead spot” develops at the bottom of the down stroke and power leaches out when climbing unseated. Really try to focus on rounding out your pedaling and utilizing the full pedal stroke while riding out of the saddle.

This will take some practice but will come naturally with time. Alberto Contador was renowned for his ability to ride standing, so I’d check out some of his race footage to visualize.

Scootch Up

Lastly, if you hit a steep climb, you will likely need to sit a little farther forward on the nose of the saddle to generate the most power. I can’t really describe the biomechanical reason for this, but generally I have found it’s much easier to generate power on steep grades by sitting farther forward. Possibly, this is due to an increased hip angle making it easier to generate power and perhaps making it easier to engage the core muscles.

How Do I Get Faster at Climbing for Cycling?

While good climbing technique is very important, you must also have a strong aerobic engine to excel in climbing. A good FTP and VO2max will help you ride faster uphill. Ultimately, climbing fast is all down to watts-per-kilo. The higher power you can produce for a certain body weight, the faster you will go.

You can increase your w/kg for cycling by either increasing power and/or losing weight. Many newer cyclists can do both at the same time, while more experienced cyclists are better off focusing on one or the other. There are a multitude of ways you can train to improve your power-to-weight ratio.

Long Mountain Rides

One of the best ways to improve power to weight ratio is to go for long rides in the mountains. In addition to helping you improve your climbing technique, long rides will also help build the aerobic fitness and muscular endurance needed to cycle faster uphill.

If you’ve ever gone out for an epic day in the mountains, you know by the end your legs are usually screaming in agony! This is often because you’ve really worked over all the muscle fibers in your legs and as a result, they will adapt to this stimulus and come back stronger.

See Also: Improve Muscular Endurance and Fatigue Resistance For Cycling

Low Cadence Intervals For Cycling

How do I strengthen my legs for uphill cycling?  Another excellent workout to increase muscular fitness for climbing is low cadence (or torque) intervals for cycling.

With these intervals, you will ride in a bigger-than-normal gear for several minutes. Intervals can range anywhere from 5-20 minutes and between 45-65 rpm depending on how well adapted you are to low cadence training.

These intervals work by increasing the maximal amount of torque (rotational force) that you can sustain for extended periods. If you can get well adapted to riding at 50 rpm, even the steepest of climbs you encounter at your next event will feel much easier.

I won’t delve too much more into it here, but we have an entire article dedicated to low-cadence cycling that you can read here if you want to learn more about it.

Tempo Cycling Intervals

Tempo cycling intervals are a great workout to prepare you for big mountains. By sustaining an effort level of around 85-95% of FTP for extended periods, you can train muscular endurance and improve your ability to hold high power outputs for a long time without fatiguing.

To learn more about how tempo training works and how to do tempo cycling intervals, you can read our comprehensive guide here.

High-Intensity Interval Training For Cycling

Training muscular endurance with tempo and low cadence training will help you sustain power outputs for longer periods, but how do you most effectively increase your FTP to climb faster?

In order to raise your FTP ceiling, you actually need to train above your current FTP. The best way to do this is with high-intensity interval training. There are hundreds of different workout variations that can accomplish this, but we recommend over/under, supra-threshold efforts, and VO2 max training. We have more articles available on our blog that describe these intervals in more detail:

Over Under Cycling Workouts For Increasing Your FTP

New Interval Workouts to Improve VO2max

What You Need to Know About VO2max Cycling Workouts

While high-intensity intervals are great for increasing your FTP, you must also have a well-established aerobic base to lay the foundation for FTP increases. It’s very important to spend lots of time regularly training in zone 2 to build your aerobic base fitness. Many riders can actually raise their FTP not by doing more intervals, but by adding more base miles into their training program.

Strength Training To Improve Cycling Performance

One last thing that can help improve your climbing for cycling is strength training for cycling. Strength training will help increase your ability to put force into the pedals, and improve your core strength, fatigue resistance and efficiency.

With a strength training regimen, you will notice that your body feels more synchronized, and you’ll have an easier time on steeper gradients maintaining good form and pushing power. After all, a heavy squat or deadlift will require you to produce far more force than you’d ever see on a climb!

Not only does lower body work help with climbing, but strength training your upper body can also improve your climbing. Before I started regular strength training, my arms would get tired really easily while riding out of the saddle. I routinely incorporate bent-over rows, bench presses and shoulder presses into my weight lifting regimen to help strengthen the arms and now I can ride out of the saddle for minutes on end without upper body fatigue.

Climbing Road Bike

So you’ve got your training and technique dialed, but what about equipment choice? After all, lugging around a heavy bike will cost you those hard-earned watts up every climb. While expensive, if you’re serious about improving your climbing for cycling, a climbing bike is a great investment.

An entry-level bike might weigh around 20 lbs (9kg), and an ultra-light climbing bike can tip the scales as low as 14 lbs (6.4kg)! You will notice a significant difference on the climbs with a lighter climbing bike.

Climbing bikes also feel much more nimble on the climbs, especially when riding out of the saddle and can accelerate around hairpins and up hills with ease. What are some of the best climbing bikes?

Best Overall Climbing Road Bike: Bear in mind there are plenty of other ultralight superbikes out there, but the Trek Émonda SLR 9 might just tip the scales as the lightest readily available climbing road bike on the market. At 14.56 lbs (6.60kg), you’ll be practically riding on air. It comes with a hefty price tag of almost $13,000 dollars but if money is no object, then this is a great option.

Best Value Climbing Bike: Looking for a light climbing bike that is also a bit lighter on the wallet? The Giant Advanced Pro Disc 1 offers great value to those looking to take their climbing up a notch. At around 16 lbs (~7.5kg), it’s still an incredibly light road bike for climbing, but will cost a fraction of a top-end road bike at around $4,000.

Used Road Bike For Climbing: Another viable option is to purchase a used bike for climbing. Previously there was an inherent risk to buying a bike secondhand, but thanks to The Pro’s Closet, you can find used bikes at a great price that have been fully inspected by an expert mechanic. If you’re really looking for a steal, older rim brake bikes tend to be lighter than disc brakes, and you can find a high-end bike for a great price.

Climbing Wheels

If you don’t want to buy a new bike and want to upgrade your existing one, a pair of lighter climbing wheels can be a good way to shed some excess weight. There are also plenty of wheels on the market that combine both light and aero for a lethal bike upgrade.

Over a decade ago, I bought a set of Specialized Roval CLX 40 wheels and boy did they rip! Even though my road bike at the time was far from the top of the line, a set of wheels made a significant difference in the speed and maneuverability of my bike.

What are the best climbing wheels? While I can’t speak to every wheel on the market, I’ve had good success with Specialized Roval wheels and DT Swiss in terms of both durability and performance.

Cycling Race Weight

One of the most important aspects of improving your power-to-weight ratio is finding your optimal body composition for cycling. While some fat is necessary to maintain health and vitality, excessive body fat only hinders climbing performance.

While this topic is beyond the scope of this article, if you feel you may benefit from losing weight for cycling, I encourage you to read our cycling weight loss guide. There, we cover everything from figuring out your optimal race weight, to how to safely lose weight, and nutrition recommendations.

We at EVOQ are also partnering with Calorify, which is an absolute game-changer for cycling nutrition. If you’re serious about getting your cycling nutrition dialed in, I highly recommend reading more about the Calorify at home test and listening to our podcast with Calorify CEO Hari Mix.

We hope this article provides you with guidance on how to improve your climbing performance. If you enjoyed this article, please share it with a friend who also can benefit from it. Also, check out our YouTube channel and other blogs on our website for loads of great content.

If you’re interested in taking your cycling performance to the next level, EVOQ.BIKE offers custom online cycling coaching. You can learn more about coaching with EVOQ here and book a 15-minute discovery call with one of our coaches to get your questions answered on how we can help you become the best version of yourself.

Happy climbing!



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