How Often Should I Train on Hills?


I usually do my solo training on flat terrain but have begun riding with a group on a hilly route. I want to train more frequently on hills so I can keep up -- and maybe even put the hurt on these guys! What's the correct balance of flat and hilly training? -- Jason L.

Coach Fred Matheny Replies: 

This is a good question for every roadie who's able to choose between hilly and flat training rides.

It's important to get the balance right. Too much climbing deadens legs and makes you slower on the flats. But always spinning on flat roads won't give you the strength and power to climb better.

Here are two guidelines:

Know your goals.  If you want to do well in hilly group rides, centuries or races, you need to include climbing as part of each week's training. Generally, I recommend two days a week in hilly terrain. Put at least one easy recovery day between them.

Of course, some riders live in areas so hilly that climbing is part of every ride. They can't do easy spins on flat roads. The solution (besides using an indoor trainer) is to have a gear low enough so you can pedal easily enough to minimize uphill efforts on rides meant for recovery. Gear down and "walk" the bike uphill.

Know yourself.  To decide how much to train on climbs, you need to determine what cycling coach Joe Friel calls your "limiters."

If you climb poorly, you either need to spend more training time on hills and reduce body weight, or you need to decide you'll never be a good climber (for genetic reasons) and stick to flatter group rides and events where you perform better.

Even so, don't avoid hills. You may never fly up them like you wish you could, but your ability will improve, and so will your overall fitness. Riding hills will make you stronger.

Coach Fred Matheny has decades of experience as a competitive racer and cycling coach. He is the author of 13 RBR eBooks and eArticles.


Good resources for additional info on climbing and hill training include Coach Fred's eBook, Climbing for Roadies, and Coach David Ertl’s eArticle, Making Friends with Hills.

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