RBR Newsletter

Hill Circuit Training Tips

We started this 2-part article last week by discussing how to choose the right course to use for this type of training, and we’ll finish up this week with tips for how to make the most of the circuit you’ve chosen.

Save your hill circuit for days when you want to climb hard. Don’t ride it casually. If you associate it with hard work, you’ll be primed to make a strong effort when it’s time to ride there. It’s a little like Pavlov’s dog, but instead of salivating on cue, you’ll be slobbering as you hammer over the hardest hill.

Ride the circuit both ways. Variety isn’t this workout’s primary attraction. You want to develop a blue-collar routine of work on cue. But riding the circuit both clockwise and counterclockwise gives you different gradients because most hills are steeper or longer on one side than the other. If you have an out-and-back course, you’ll automatically see both sides of each climb.

Get a training partner or 2 to ride with you. Solo slogging up climbs very quickly becomes a mental challenge. It can drain your enthusiasm. When that happens, your workouts get slower and less effective. So, find some like-minded masochists to share your hill circuit. Competition will heat up the pace, stop you from dwelling on every second of your effort and boost your rate of improvement.

Use different climbing techniques. Do the ascents in a variety of ways—big gears, small gears, seated on the tip of the saddle or at the rear, standing or sitting, with a still upper body or pulling rhythmically on the handlebar with each pedal stroke. Over time, you’ll find the techniques that work best for you in different situations.

Don’t overgear. Unless you’re doing specific, big-gear/low-cadence intervals, don’t let your cadence drop below 80 rpm on these climbs. If your loop has very steep hills, you may need a lower gear than you usually employ. In this case, buy a training wheel and cassette with the bigger cogs. Change to your “climbing wheel” before each hill workout.

Practice standing. Heavier riders usually climb seated. When legs don’t have to support bodyweight, more energy can go into getting up the hill. But regardless of how much heft you’re hauling, it pays to stand some of the time for variety, getting over steeper pitches and to give your butt a rest.

Ride the circuit only when you’re fresh. You won’t get anything positive out of the training if you force yourself to hammer when your legs are dead.

Hydrate and eat. Make sure you carry enough food and fluids to see you through the workout. If you ride for 45 minutes to get to your circuit, then spend another hour in the hills, you still have to ride back. If you emptied your bottles and didn’t bring a snack to eat after the final climb, you’ll be bonked before you get home. You need about 300 calories per hour to ride long and hard. That’s equal to an energy bar and bottle of sports drink every 60 minutes.

Don’t keep a record of average time or speed. They’re all but meaningless for this training. When you push hills hard, you have to ride the descents and flats easily to recover. Better to time yourself on the uphills to track improvement while ignoring your total-ride numbers. Beware, though, that speed on climbs can be misleading on a windy day. It can vary considerably for the same power output.


Adapted from Coach Fred Matheny’s Supercharge Your TrainingCoach Fred Matheny has decades of experience as a competitive racer and cycling coach. He is the author of 13 RBR eBooks and eArticles.
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