If you’ve yet to read my previous article How to Write Training Plan: Part 1 then I recommend you do so!

That article was more of a general look at setting out your aims and goals and working out your strengths and weaknesses, whereas this here look more specifically at how to improve your cycling ability as a climber. Stay tuned for Part 3 in which we will look at work you can do on the flat.

In this section, we will look at two sample workouts that anyone – from the complete beginner to the more advanced cyclists – can add to their week’s riding to improve their climbing ability. 

To improve at climbing, the cyclist must work first to improve their climbing stamina and endurance, then to begin to work on improving their strength and VO2 max – the maximum rate at which the heart, lungs, and muscles can effectively use oxygen during exercise. 

Allez allez!

If you are regularly becoming out of breath every time the road goes up, this is because your body is not getting enough oxygen. The legs become tired because the poorly oxygenated blood cannot take away the waste products that build up in the muscles as a result of the exercise. 

So, to improve in the mountains, we need to train specifically and intelligently, increasing the workloads over time to bring improvements in the way the body deals with the stress of climbing.

The best way to begin this process is simply to ride hills, to get used to the stress involved and to aim to utilise your gearing and pedalling motion so that you are as efficient as possible. Conserving energy is critical in cycling, so always look to improve efficiency of motion. 

The TAIWAN KOM CHALLENGE will test yer climbing legs! Image / Paolo Penni Martelli

If you have a small hill nearby, I recommend cycling up it as many times as you can. These are called ‘hill repeats’, unsurprisingly!

These are usually done at a steady effort and speed, as the goal is to increase stamina and endurance. Add these once a week to your cycling plan. The hill does not have to be steep nor long, the aim is simply to get the body used to going ‘up’.

Three to four weeks of these and then you can try the workouts below.

  1. ‘Slow Fast Faster’ Hill Repeats

The Slow Fast Faster Hill Repeats are similar to basic hill repeats, but with one important difference: you have to be faster on each repeat. 

Let’s say you have a 1km hill nearby, at 5-6% average. Warm up then try this:

Hill #1: 70% effort

Hill #2: 80% effort

Hill #3: 90% effort

Hill #4: 100% effort 

And if you have any power left, do one more at 110%!

Time each climb and keep a log of the ride. 7 days later do this again, and compare the times. You will become faster and stronger: if you do these correctly. And yes… it will hurt! Start out on a shallow hill, even if it is just 3% incline, to be sure you can control the efforts well. 

‘Slow Fast Faster’ Hill Repeats can be done on a 500m hill, on an indoor trainer. And even on the flat if there is no hill: simply use harder gearing to replicate the resistance of an incline. The workout can be done in 90 mins or less.

How you should feel after ‘Slow Fast Faster’! Image: Paolo Penni Martelli

Workout 2 is a little more advanced. 

B. Three Hill Mix

The ideal route for this a loop with three hills. One hill is short and steep (8%+), another is long and not steep (3-4%), and the last is in-between (5-7%). 

Warm up well then try this, in any order:

a. STEEP HILL: Ride this as hard as you can, fight the incline. This works on VO2 and also mental toughness! Keep going! 

b. LONG NOT STEEP HILL: Split the hill into thirds:

1/3rd: 70% effort, normal cadence

2/3rd: 85% effort, higher cadence (90-100rpm)

3/3rd: 100%+ effort, any cadence 

On the LONG STEEP, we are increasing the resistance in 3rds, so that for the last 3rd, the body is already fatigued but not too much. Push as hard as you can for the final 3rd. This is a great workout for teaching the rider how to gauge their efforts, how to preserve energy and to work on cadence too. The final 3rd is hard – but fun – and will improve VO2 max and the rider’s all round climbing strength. 

c. INBETWEENER HILL: A hill that is not too steep, not too easy, thus named the ‘inbetweener’. Here, ride very easy for 300m, then sprint out of the saddle for 100m. Do this until you can no longer sprint! If it is a short hill, do 200m then 50m, and repeat. We are working here on VO2, and also on ‘in-ride’ recovery – testing how quickly you can recover from the hard efforts to be able to do another one. 

If you don’t have these ‘ideal’ hills nearby, you can get the ‘gist’ of the workout by applying the intervals a closely as possible to what you have near. Also there are several routes on apps such as Rouvy and Swift that can work.

Also, if you can only do one of these hill efforts first couple of times, then do say the Inbetweener on a Tuesday, and then Long Not Steep on Friday for example. On your longer weekend ride, try to get one Steep Hill effort done. Eventually you will be able to do all three in one workout.

Persevere, brothers and sisters, persevere.

Good luck with these!

Please email me for coaching inquiries by clicking here, or email

Image: Paolo Penni Martelli

Author: Lee Rodgers

Cycling coach, race organiser, former professional cyclist and the original CrankPunk.

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