Mind Over Mountain: Mental Tips for Climbing

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Unlike other aspects of cycling, climbing success is considered by most to be almost 100 percent dependant on fitness and natural ability. It occurred to me, however, that there is actually much more to it. Over the years, I've picked up numerous tricks and techniques that have allowed me to occasionally put one over on a stronger competitor. At the grass roots level, it is possible to just out ride your opponents, but as you get into the higher categories and the gap in ability narrows, strategy becomes increasingly important.

Practice the following psychological tactics to conquer your next elevation test:

I am a Strong Climber and I Love to Climb!

For most riders, the climb is won or lost the moment the looming incline comes into view. I cringe when I hear riders declare "I'm not a climber" or even "I'm a sprinter." Unless you are a world-class or professional cyclist, there is just no reason to limit yourself with statements such as these.

The rider who thinks to himself that he is not a climber will never be a great climber no matter how hard they train. Mentally, they defeat themselves before they even reach the base. These negative self-beliefs are powerful and deeply ingrained into the subconscious, but they can be overcome.

Next time you have one of these thoughts, write it down and then write down a positive thought that directly counteracts the negative one. For instance if you find yourself thinking, "I hate to climb and I'm terrible at it," you may want to write, "I am a strong climber and I love to climb!" Notice that the statement is 100 percent positive. Using the word "love" in your statement has also been proven to improve the power of your mantra.

Find 20 minutes on each ride to repeat this statement or affirmation to yourself. Say it out loud and with conviction. Think of the brain as having a type of muscle memory that can be re-shaped with training and repetition. If you do this consistently, you will be amazed at the results.


Negative thinking can cause a physical reaction. Riders who get nervous whenever the road ascends tend to tense up. They waste energy by clenching their shoulders and their arms. They lose their breathing rhythm and some (as ridiculous as this might sound) unconsciously hold their breath. Another result of this physical tension is a breakdown in efficiency. Their otherwise smooth pedal stroke becomes choppy and broken. As a result, their heart rate rises much faster than a rider with a similar power-to-weight ratio and they end up going off the back.

Try these two tricks. At night, when you are relaxed and lying in bed, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Imagine yourself on a challenging climb. Visualize yourself feeling relaxed and pedaling smoothly. Conjure up emotions and feelings you've had while doing something cycling related where your confidence soars, such as riding in a paceline or sprinting, and translate that into this climbing scenario. See yourself spinning effortlessly and summiting in record time with very little difficulty.