Hill Climbing Techniques

One of the great challenges for us amateur riders is dealing with long climbs on sportives, particularly as most of us live in flatter areas. So many riders focus just on getting miles in their legs or weight loss and ignore a key component of climbing success: technique. Expert coach Jon Fearne gives us the key parts to work on to become technically better climbers:

  • While seated, hands to be placed close to the stem in the middle of the bars.
  • Tip your pelvis forwards, allowing yourself to sit upright engaging your glutes and opening the chest up - this creates a better power output onto the pedals.
  • Use a 360 degree pedal stroke - this means removing all the dead spots. Most cyclists ride just using the quads to do the work (rectus femoris, vastus lateralis.) By lifting on the pedals and pointing the toes down at the top of the stroke, you will start to use your hamstrings and gluteus maximus too. So, instead of waiting for your opposite leg to push the pedal down to return the other pedal to the top, you are lifting it up. 

This means that 3 major muscle groups are working instead of 1. The best way to picture this and to try this, is out of the saddle on a climb. Put the bike into a harder than normal gear and stand out the saddle... Now lifting with the right leg, flex the ankle joint so toes point to the floor at the top of the stroke. As you go over the top, allow your foot to flatten then let the heel drop slightly as you drag back from the front and then start lift phase again. 

While doing this, try and imagine your knee is trying to go over the handle bars. Apply this technique to both left and right pedals.

  • When getting out of the saddle on a climb, always make sure you increase your gear to at least one harder than before. Most cyclists will think when they get out the saddle they should go a bit quicker than the seated person next to them. This will only happen if you increase the gear. When standing you cannot maintain the cadence that some seated can.
  • When lifting, always think light - you want to use the muscle groups down the back of your legs more than the front so quads push down and help gravity work against you. Using hamstring and glutes creates a lighter feeling. 

Explanation of what point in the pedal stroke you use different muscle groups:

Between 0 degrees and 90 degrees you should be using gluteal muscles. 90-180 degrees should be quadriceps with a little help from the gluteals. 180-270 degrees should be quadriceps and gluteals and 270-360 degrees, use hamstrings. 

 Technique points that apply all the time:

  • When seated try and get your knees to come close to or even cross over the top tube, this creates the effect of xcountry skiing when pushing down and out is the most powerful action, the same applies in cycling - you get to engage some other muscle groups as well as the 3 major groups.. 
  • Keep muscle groups in the upper body relaxed if not needed and try to always focus on muscle groups that are working so when pulling on the handle bars on a climb, this will be lats and triceps. Let everything else relax or you burn energy that you do not need to.