There is no denying that climbing hills on your bike is hard and it’s an area of frustration for many riders. Remember that you are fighting against gravity so there are some techniques that you should be adopting to ride smart and make it a little easier on yourself.
There is a tendency to shift in and out of the saddle depending on how steep the climb is, however it’s much more efficient to stay seated for the majority of the time, pedaling in a lower gear. Riding out of the saddle uses up more energy and is a lot harder to maintain for long periods, so if the hill is an absolute beast, you will find yourself spent very quickly! Climbing out of the saddle is great for getting over short, steep sections or as a brief option to relieve your back muscles but it’s just not sustainable for a long hill section.
Climbing whilst seated in a lower gear is the most aerobically efficient way to get up a hill, and try and stay reasonably relaxed whilst holding onto the tops of the handle bars. Don’t grip the handles too tightly, make sure there is some flex in your wrists and try and keep a straight back and shoulders, allowing your diaphragm to open up and take in the much needed oxygen.
Your cadence should be lower out of the saddle than when you’re seated. If you’re going to get out of the saddle, change up a gear so you have more resistance to press against, and this will keep your power levels consistent. Then when you do sit down, drop back into an easier gear.
The gears that you use for climbing have a huge impact on how fast you climb and how comfortable you feel during the climb. If you are riding out of the saddle you can use a slightly higher gear, if you’re riding in the saddle use a lower gear and spin. You’re aiming for a cadence of between 75 and 90 rpm. If you’re over-geared you’ll struggle and you’ll end up riding inefficiently. Being under geared is not such a problem – just change down the chain set.
Don’t go off too hard!! If your legs are burning ten minutes into a hard climb then you’ve gone all out too quickly! This is known as “going into the red” and is something to be avoided at all costs. Once you’ve pushed up your intensity to this level, your body very quickly generates far more lactate than you can clear and use, which is very hard to recover from.
Ride smart and find a rhythm that suits you and one that you can maintain with your breathing controlled, especially on the longer hills.
If you’re new to cycling you may find it hard to remain seated for long periods, and you’ll feel you may want to regularly shift in and out of the saddle and this is normal. You just need to focus on your rhythm and technique, keeping the gearing low and be patient!