Climbing to the Top

Training & Health

10/15/2008| 0 comments
by John Phillips

Climbing to the Top

Climbing can be one of the toughest yet most enjoyable aspects of road cycling.

Climbing can be one of the toughest yet most enjoyable aspects of cycling. The strain of getting to the beautiful summit makes the view sweeter, and typically, the sweeter the view, the more grueling the climb. Many cyclists, myself included, seek out these great experiences as often as possible. Others avoid them like the plague because they think they can’t climb well. There are many ways to improve your climbing. Most important are a positive outlook and an enjoyment of climbing, but there are also many climbing specific workouts, techniques and equipment you can utilize to get better on the hills or mountains.

Improving your watts per kilogram is the major goal. Since gravity is pulling down on your mass, you’ll want to minimize your weight & maximize your sustainable power to go uphill faster. Needless to say, all the workouts and gear won’t make you a super climber if you’re lacking the desire. No matter how easy your favorite climbing superstar makes it look on television, that athlete is really suffering to climb as well. Though they know proper preparation and equipment are vital to their climbing successes, their internal desire to ascend powerfully is probably the most important fuel for the fire.


Let’s begin with simple tactics to improve your climbing technique. These are basically free speed since no hard work is necessary. Many riders don’t understand whether they’re faster climbing seated or standing, and there’s not a definite yes or no. It is true that you conserve more energy seated, yet standing is important when you want to attack or accelerate since you can put much more force into the downstroke. Generally speaking, bigger folks should spend more time seated than smaller riders. When you stand you have to support your body weight in addition to applying force to the pedals. Hence, more body weight means more energy used when one stands. Yet, don’t let being big keep you in the saddle for all your climbs. It is OK for anyone to stand on short steep sections. For longer climbs, you’ll want to spend more time seated since you need to preserve more energy.

Optimal hand position is another matter for debate. Should you climb in the drops, or on the brake hoods, or on the bar tops? Again the answer varies depending on the terrain & effort. Generally the hoods are the best place to be. You can easily stand for a quick burst of power, yet it is comfortable enough for a long climb. The bar tops also put you in a powerful & comfortable position. You just have to be quick to get your hands to the hoods if you need to stand & accelerate. The drops, believe it or not, can indeed be a good climbing position, but only in the right situation. That situation is an attack or acceleration on a moderate grade. Marco Pantani demonstrated the beauty of this position in his prime. If you have to stand & attack or accelerate on a hill on your next group ride, try it


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