Climbing to the Top: Page 3 of 5

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.

big strong climber.


The key to improving your climbing is to increase your maximum sustainable power output. You’re goal is to be able to maintain a higher pace from the bottom of the climb to the top, and that can be a 30-60 minute effort sometimes. The workouts that lead to the kind of power increases you’re looking for consist of long intervals right below your lactate threshold, which is your maximum sustainable pace or power output. The idea is to gradually increase the length of these intervals, and then increase the number you’re completing, so you accumulate more and more time at this important intensity level.

So, how would this work? After you have a good base of fitness from endurance rides and some interval work on flat and rolling terrain, it’s time to hit the hills. Find a road where it takes 8-15 minutes (or more) of sustained climbing to reach the top. During your Preparation Period, or pre-competition period, you should incorporate two or three days of ClimbingRepeat workouts into your weekly schedule. Start by climbing at a pace that’s just below your time trial intensity for 8 minutes, then resting for 15 minutes, and then repeating the interval two more times. As you adapt, increase the interval times to 10 minutes and then 12 minutes, while reducing the recovery times to 12 minutes and then 10 minutes.

If there are only short climbs where you live, you’ll have to do more intervals instead of longer ones, but remember that the main goal is to increase the total time spent at this intensity each week. It’s good to focus on ClimbingRepeat work for 4-8 weeks, taking a recovery week after the third or fourth week.


Your choice of cycling equipment is important to your climbing success. Just like time trialists have specialized aero equipment and mountain bikers have suspension tuning options, climbers can benefit greatly from the right equipment. The main goal is obviously to lighten your bike to further maximize the watts you can produce per kilogram you have to haul up the hill. However, gearing choices can be just as important as lightweight parts.

It takes an incredibly strong cyclist to climb well with an 11-23 rear cassette. The 11-23 works well on flatter ground, but with that gearing on a hilly route you can be at a big disadvantage. The 39 x 23 combination at 60 RPM gives you 12.8 km/h. If you know that you’re climbing below that speed then you’ll need to modify your gearing. At 60 RPM you’re using a great amount of muscular strength to get yourself up the hill. This is fine for a strength building workout, but highly inefficient if you’re aiming to get to the front of the group ride. A more optimal climbing cadence would be 80 RPM or greater. The higher cadence minimizes muscular fatigue. Start out with a 12-25 or 12-27 rear cassette. Even Lance rode a 12-25 all winter, so no shame in choosing such. If need further gearing for even steeper and


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