7 Hill Cycling Tips for Flatlanders

You are scanning the event calendar and find a cool event you'd like to do. It is a beautiful route with loads of climbing. The biggest concern you have is that you live in flatland. There is not a hill to be found anywhere, sans the nearest highway overpass.

Is it possible to prepare for a hilly event when you live in Flatland?
The short answer is "yes."

Here are seven training tips you can implement now, that will make a difference when you finally hit those hills:

Strength Training

A strength training routine that includes hip extension exercises (leg press, squats, step-ups) will help you climb hills on the bike when you have no hills at home. A good routine begins by strengthening tendons and ligaments with low weights and higher repetitions before adding higher loads and lower repetitions to help improve your strength—and ultimately power—on the bike.

Core Strength

Often, it isn't the legs that give out on long climbs, but the back. On those long climbs, your body position is different than on the flats. Combine position with high effort and some people get back spasms. Be sure to build your core strength with crunches, back extensions and other various core strength exercises. You can also do pilates or yoga to build core strength—and balance as well.

Flexibility

To compliment your strength routine, include a stretching routine to improve or maintain flexibility.  It is impossible to maintain good riding position if your hamstrings and back are tight and inflexible.

Lactate Threshold Training

It is comforting to know that doing lactate threshold training does help—even if the training is done on the flats. This is especially true if your event contains mountain climbs that require long and sustained efforts. Lactate threshold training gives you an advantage by developing the capability to get into a rhythm and hold a strong, steady pace.

Use a Bigger Gear

On some of your regular routes, use a bigger gear than you would normally chose and try to maintain the same speed. This slows your cadence and increases the force you apply to the pedals. This is one way to simulate hills.

Ride Into a Headwind

For those of you that live in very windy regions, intentionally ride into the wind. You will need to generate more force to ride against the wind, similar to riding uphill. Play with your body position to stay low and aerodynamic, while trying to maintain a reasonable speed.

Use Gears to Your Advantage

No less than a month before your event, be sure your bike is equipped with appropriate climbing gears. Mountain bike riders already know this trick. For road riders, if you are doing a very hilly road event consider using a triple chainring or a compact crank setup with a large cassette on the rear wheel. Even the pros know that trying to tough it out with gearing designed for flat roads will leave you well behind everyone else and puts you at risk for knee soreness—potentially forcing an early end to your event.  

While it is impossible to completely replace good hill training when you live somewhere flat, you can do a few things that will have an impact on your climbing ability. With all these suggestions, be sure to begin conservatively and increase the training load as you gain more fitness. 

Challenge yourself at a cycling event.


Gale Bernhardt was the USA Triathlon team coach at the 2003 Pan American Games and 2004 Athens Olympics. Her first Olympic experience was as a personal cycling coach at the 2000 Games in Sydney. She currently serves as one of the World Cup coaches for the International Triathlon Union's Sport Development Team. Thousands of athletes have had successful training and racing experiences using Gale's pre-built, easy-to-follow cycling and triathlon training plans. Let Gale and Active Trainer help you succeed.

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