The following is excerpted from Climb! by Selene Yeager – your guide to train for, conquer, and ultimately fall in love with hills.
I do a lot of mountain bike stage races, where you have mammoth hour-long climbs, short, stem-chewing grinders, and rollers all thrown into the mix, for 4 to 6 hours a day, day after day.
When I started, I couldn’t force myself to do what I needed to do to succeed at gruelling mountainous multi-day mountain bike stage races like ABSA Cape Epic and Brasil Ride, so I hired coaches to dish out what I knew I needed most – hill repeats and lots of them.
Yes, it’s way more fun to just do a hilly ride, but there’s a specificity to hill repeats that works like nothing else. For one, you can really dial in your time at intensity – a key factor for hill-climbing success.
So, when my teammates and I would do 3 x 8-minute or 6 x 5-minute hill repeats, we would have 24 to 30 minutes at threshold (where you naturally climb). To mimic real-world conditions, where you’re hanging onto attacking riders or trying to stay away or make a break, we’d also do multiple short, super-punchy hill repeats like 8 x 3 minutes or 12 x 2 minutes – so the same time at even higher intensity.
These not only train your body to produce more power aerobically, better manage lactic acid, and produce more power at your threshold, but also bolster your mental reserves, because it’s just as challenging for your mind to blaze up the same lung-busting climb as it is for your muscles.
The following hill repeats will address all your hill-climbing needs. For the best results, do one of these workouts once or twice a week on fresh legs. Also, though hill repeats are designed to be somewhat torturous, they’re not intended to bury you. Your speed, intensity, and/or power should be within the goal range on every repeat. If either drops off by 20 percent, you’re close to cooked, and it’s time to spin easy and call it a day.
Always warm up for about 15 minutes before launching into intervals and cool down for a few minutes when you’re done.
Uphill Sprint 20s
Being able to surge and recover helps you hang with the group up punchy climbs and gives you the reserves to power through undulating climbs that kick up into double-digit grades.
Do It: Find a hill that takes 10 to 15 minutes to climb. Start climbing at your lactate threshold (Rating of Perceived Exertion [RPE] of 7 to 8). After 2 minutes, stand up and attack at just below all-out sprint intensity (RPE 9) for 20 pedal strokes. Sit and go right back to climbing at your LT. Repeat every 1 to 2 minutes (depending on your fitness) all the way up the hill. Perform the drill one or two more times.
Rock The Rollers
To keep going strong through rolling terrain, practice 2-minute attacks.
Do It: Find a short climb or series of climbs that takes about 2 minutes to crest. Wind up before you hit the climb, so you’re at LT (RPE 7 to 8) as soon as the hill starts. Climb at LT for 90 seconds, then go as fast as you can (RPE 9 to 10) for the final 30 seconds all the way to the top. Repeat four to six times.
Short Rest Repeats
These classic climbing intervals simulate real-world climbing conditions where you often don’t have the luxury of fully recovering before you’re hit with the next incline.
Do It: Find a climb that takes about 10 minutes to climb (it can be longer, you’ll just be turning around before you reach the top). Roll into the climb and crank your intensity to your LT heart rate and/or power (RPE 8). Hold it there for 6 minutes. Flip around and recover for 3 minutes. Repeat for a total of four climb intervals. Alternately, you can perform these as 3 x 8-minute climbs with 4 minutes of recovery.
As the name implies, these short intervals go from 0 to 60, like a rocket, to develop the explosive strength and power you need to punch up steep climbs without losing speed and momentum.
Do It: Find a short incline that takes about 2 minutes to crest. Begin from a standing or slow-rolling start (much as you would a race), on a count of three, explode up the hill as hard as you can (RPE 8 to 9) for 2 minutes. Recover for 5 minutes. Repeat 5 to 10 times.