On long hill climbs, think “C-L-I-M-B” for best results:
Cadence. Whenever trying to climb a long steady hill, try and keep your pedals moving quickly to conserve energy- Try and keep above 70-75rpm (revelations per minute) and you’ll be able to climb faster, for a longer period of time
Loosen up. Typically when we encounter a hill, we tighten our grip on the handlebars, clench our jaw, and our shoulders get shrugged up towards our ears. All this extra unnecessary muscular work uses up valuable energy for climbing the big hills. Try and relax the hands, open the jaw, and remember to keep those shoulder blades down and back. For tension in the arms, feel that your arms are loose enough to ‘flap your wings’ while riding.
In the Saddle. For a long steady climb, try and stay in the saddle as long as you can maintain a good cadence- you’ll fatigue less quickly. While seated, try and pitch your body forward, which will help transfer weight to the front wheel to help drive you up a steep incline. Keep your time standing on the pedals to short intervals to keep cadence up, and for quick pressure relief.
Mindset. There is no surprise that many of us psych ourselves out and give up even before we’ve started a daunting climb. Stay focused, knowing you can do it, and/or think about other things to pacify your mind with games- On a steep, long hill, I tend to look just 10-20ft ahead, and count my breaths or my revolutions- once you get to 100, start over. Same game can be done with the alphabet- Anything that can shift your focus and concentrate on the now can make a huge hill seem more manageable.
Breathe! When we get stressed and challenged, our breathing becomes labored and quick- try and keep a slow controlled breathing pattern as your fitness level allows- make sure to fully exhale during each breath, and try sipping in every last ounce of Oxygen with deep controlled breathing, taking the breath from the belly for maximal endurance to feed those straining muscles and oxygen-thirsty tissues!
Next time your climbing what seems to be a never-ending hill, think C-L-I-M-B to help you get over the hump!
–Kevin Schmidt, MSPT, CMP, Bike PT – PT/owner of Pedal PT in Portland, Oregon