5 Tricks for Boosting Your Uphill Pedaling Power
Coach Darryl MacKenzie has been cycling and coaching other cyclists for more than three decades. He’s heard every question you can think to ask about the sport — some many times over. But there’s one question he gets more than any other:
How do I climb better on my bike?
If you’ve ever pedaled with a group, you’ll understand. The hills separate the experienced riders from the rest. When you tackle a hill without the proper technique, you’ll quickly fall behind. And soon, everyone else will be waiting for you at the top.
One of the best things you can do to boost your power on hills is to put better climbing gears on your bike. But that’s not the only thing — and we’ve covered that at length in another post. Here, we’ll discuss five other simple adjustments you can make to boost your power on those uphill climbs.
Note, you’ll get the most out of the first things on this list, so do them in order as you find yourself lagging on hills.
1. Use Your Lungs’ Full Capacity
Over the years, Coach Darryl has come alongside many different riders as they’ve tackled their first difficult hill on a long group ride. And, invariably, this first tip for better climbing on the bike gets their attention because it works so effectively and so quickly.
When riders start to struggle on hills, in most cases, it’s because they’ve let their breathing get out of control. They’re gasping for air, but they’re not getting enough oxygen, and soon they’re tired and falling behind.
The solution is counterintuitive: To get more oxygen, you need to exhale more air.
“If you push more of that carbon dioxide out of the lungs, then the next breath will bring you a higher percentage of fresh, oxygen-laden air,” Darryl explains. In other words, you’re not getting rid of enough CO2, and that’s impeding your ability to inhale sufficient amounts of oxygen.
When cyclists try this for the first time, they find that their breathing slows within 10 seconds. They stop breathing so deeply, their body calms down, and suddenly they’re pedaling with more power.
2. Flatten Your Back
This tip relates more to your body positioning, but it also connects to the critical role oxygen plays in athletic performance.
“The more air you can get into the lungs, the faster you can ride, especially climbing,” says Darryl. “The more air you can get into the lungs, the more oxygen gets transported to the large working leg muscles, and the better they can move you forward.”
Unfortunately, many cyclists inhibit their ability to get the air they need. To help you get a feel for it, try this simple exercise: Sit upright in a chair, then slowly arch your back over until you’re hunched forward. Now, inhale and exhale deeply three times. Once you’ve done that, sit up straight again and inhale and exhale deeply three more times.
Do you feel it?
It’s blatantly obvious that you could breathe in more air when you sat up straight. Yet, countless cyclists ride with a curved back, locking their elbows in place and cutting off 15–25% of their lung capacity.
Next time you ride, especially uphill, pay special attention to your posture. As you lean forward, make sure your back is straight. You may need to adjust the reach on your handlebars to make sure you can lean properly without arching your back. As you pedal, focus on your breathing and note how much more you can inhale with each breath.
3. Refresh Your Muscles
Cycling involves more repetitive motion than almost any other sport. You pedal round and round, over and over again, often for hours at a time. And all that pedaling means you work the exact same muscle groups repeatedly until you wear them down. Particularly when climbing, you’ll soon begin to feel the burn.
That doesn’t mean you have to stop, though. When you feel your legs starting to tire out, there’s a trick you can do to refresh your muscles and renew your strength. Simply shift your butt backward on the saddle by about half to three-quarters of an inch. It’s just enough to engage your muscles differently as your legs have to reach a little farther.
When you do this, it’ll give you a short burst of energy, good for about 15–25 seconds. Don’t push any harder, just keep going with the same amount of pressure. Once you start to tire again, shift your butt forward to your original position. You’ll find another short burst of energy. Keep this cycle going as your press on up the hill.
4. Occasionally Pull Back Through Your Pedal Stroke
When you pedal, it’s common to default to applying force through about a third of your pedal stroke on each leg. You essentially push down from about the eleven o’clock to seven o’clock position before letting up and turning it over to your other leg.
However, you can get more energy out of each stroke by sticking with it a little longer. When you find yourself running out of steam on a long climb, try to keep applying pressure through the bottom of your stroke, sort of scraping through the bottom from about seven to five on the clock. This will extend the power you get from each stroke, pushing you along just a bit farther with every revolution.
5. Engage Your Arms
When you’re really struggling amid an extended climb, there’s one more trick you can try. As you push down on each pedal, pull up on the handlebar with the arm on the same side. This will add just a bit of extra force and move your bike along a little more quickly. Be careful not to pull too hard, though, as you can throw off your balance. Overall, you’ll only be able to do this in short bursts so you don’t wear yourself out.
There’s no getting around the fact that hills are the hardest part of the ride. But they’re also the part that can grow your strength and stamina the most. With these five tricks, you’ll make them a little easier — and you won’t fall behind.
Whatever you do, don’t stop pedaling. It’s much harder to restart than to keep the bike moving, even if it’s slow going. Stick with it, and you’ll be to the top before you know it.
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash