Strap on your heart rate monitor and sit on your sofa. Check your heart rate. Now clench your fists and grit your teeth. Bet your heart rate jumps a few beats. When you’re climbing a long hill, you want to direct all your energy to your legs, not your face. To stay relaxed, Applegate swears by “Qigong climbing”–a kind of moving meditation. As you approach the climb, think light thoughts–clouds, birds, angels. While climbing, progressively relax your body from the top down, starting with your eyes, then your mouth, jaw, shoulders, chest, back, arms and hands. “You want your upper body so still that if someone were to watch you from the waist up, they wouldn’t be able to tell if you were climbing or casually riding along,” says Applegate. Also, stay light on the pedals and keep your legs moving rhythmically. The goal is to erase every ounce of unnecessary tension. “You’ll feel better, ride smoother and have more energy to keep riding strong after you’ve crested the climb,” says Applegate.
Find Your Power Position
To pull maximum air into your lungs, keep your back straight and your chest open. Position your hands on the brake hoods and relax your arms so your elbows sit wider than your hips. If you’re short, slide back on the saddle to generate more force through the top of the pedal stroke and to encourage your heel to drop through the bottom of the stroke. If you’re tall, slide forward, positioning your hips so they come close to lining up with the bottom bracket to generate maximum muscle force.
When you have to stand, click into the next larger gear and stand when one foot reaches the top of the pedal stroke (2 o’clock) to minimize momentum loss. “Avoid leaning forward as you stand, which tosses the bike backward in reaction,” advises Applegate. “Stand with your butt over the saddle and keep your weight centered over the bottom bracket.” You should feel like you’re running on the pedals, allowing the bike to rock gently, but not excessively, from side to side.
Raise Your LT
“The cornerstone of climbing fitness is being able to generate high speed and power at lactate threshold,” says Applegate. To improve yours, slip in LT (or steady state) intervals at least once, and no more than twice, a week. After a good warm-up, ride 10 minutes at a steady effort, keeping your heart rate about three beats below your LT heart rate (just below your average heart rate for a 30-60-minute time trial, or an effort of seven to eight on a scale of one to 10). Recover for 10 minutes. Then repeat two more times. Work up to two 20-minute intervals with 20 minutes recovery, then just one 30-minute interval.
Practice To Perfection
You’ll get better just by choosing a hilly route at least once or twice a week. Add these drills (one per climbing-designated day) and you’ll improve even faster. Uphill Sprint 20s Find a hill that takes 10 to 15 minutes to climb. Start climbing at your lactate threshold. After two minutes, stand up and attack at just below all-out sprint intensity (nine-plus on a one-to-10 scale) for 20 pedal strokes. Sit and go right back to climbing at your LT. Repeat every one to two minutes (depending on your fitness) all the way up the hill. Perform the drill one to two times. Rock the Rollers To keep going strong through rolling terrain, practice two-minute attacks. Find a short climb or series of climbs that takes about two minutes to crest. Wind up before you hit the climb so you’re at LT as soon as the hill starts. Climb at LT for 90 seconds; then go as fast as you can for the final 30 seconds all the way to the top. Repeat four to six times.
Peak Force Intervals
Climbing in big gears strengthens your legs to put more power in every pedal stroke. By improving your peak pedal force, you help your legs stave off fatigue during long climbs, when you’re typically using a smaller gear. To build your pedal force, find a long, gradual hill and start climbing as you normally would. After a minute or two, click into a harder gear and slow your cadence to about 50 to 60 rpm. Maintain a smooth pedal stroke and a low heart rate. Climb this way for one to two minutes. Then shift back into an easier gear and recover for five to 10 minutes. Repeat to the top of the climb.