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Hill training sessions

Feb 20, 2006
Hill training sessions

Use intervals to get uphill faster

Hill based sessions are a very effective way of improving your cycling performance, and you should try and incorporate some hill work into your training. You can use different types of hill sesssions to work on various aspects of your cycling, so don't restrict your training to one type of effort.

The sessions described below involve repeated hill efforts. If you are re-using the same hill, pick a road where you can see other traffic and turn safely. Both sessions are suited to medium-steep hills, but try hills of different lengths and gradient to introduce some variety. Before starting the sessions, spend 20-30 minutes warming up and gradually increasing your effort to the level 2/3 zone.

Session 1 - Strength work

Staying seated for the whole climb, ride up a hill using a gear that is bigger than the one you would normally climb in. When you reach the top of the climb, return to the bottom and repeat. Try a slightly higher gear than usual if you are new to this type of session, but as you get stronger, increase the resistance and force yourself to work harder. Your pedalling cadence should be much lower than usual (50 - 60 rpm) and you should feel that you are really pushing from your upper leg muscles. This exercise should get you out of your climbing comfort zone, so that your shoulders are rocking and you have to use your upper body strength to brace yourself and keep yourself seated on the saddle. Start off with a climb that is 1 to 2 minutes long and try to do 4 or 5 repetitions. You can build up to longer climbs of 3+ minutes and add more repetitions as you get stronger.

This is a good early season session, as it helps to build your basic leg strength, but should not involve a maximal aerobic effort. For maximum effect this session should be performed solo, but you can incorporate the same technique into climbs during group training rides. In a group, use a more manageable gear so that you are forced to push harder than normal, but don't disrupt the group by climbing too slowly or rocking your bike around.

N.B. You should not feel that you are straining your knees when doing this session; use common sense and don't continue if you experience discomfort or have existing knee problems. If in doubt, start with a slightly higher gear than usual until you develop more strength.

Session 2 - Hill intervals

Ride hard from the bottom of the hill (sustained level 4 effort), climbing in and out of the saddle as appropriate. Sprint flat out with 100m to go, sustaining the sprint through and slightly beyond the crest of the hill. If all goes well, you should be seeing stars at this point. Turn and spin easily to the bottom of the hill to recover. Repeat.

This is an excellent session for road race training, but it can benefit cyclists of all disciplines. You should have a reasonable base fitness before using this session, so try introducing it in the pre-race and race periods of your season. Start with a climb that is up to 2 minutes long and try 4 repetitions. As you get fitter and are able to sustain multiple efforts more comfortably, try longer hills and increase the number of repetitions. It is important to really lift your speed and make a do or die sprint effort in the last 100m, and to sustain this beyond the crest of the hill. This simulates a typical road race situation, where you may have to climb a hill near your limit, and then respond to an attack and follow the bunch. It is not uncommon for riders to sit up with relief at the top of the hill and think the worst is over, only to watch the race disappear in front of them. Again, this needs to be a solo training exercise, so that you are pushing your own limits, and not trying to ride to anyone else's pace. As an alternative to repeating the same hill, try and find a circuit with a series of good hills that are fairly close together, or pick a hill with a good climb on both sides, so you can ride to the bottom of the other side and repeat the interval from there, instead of turning in the road.

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