How to cycle up that hill

It's no fun cycling on the flat all the time. Why not introduce a little variation in your cycling routine by attempting a few hill climbs from time to time? It might appear like a tough ask, but don't be discouraged at the thought of cycling up a hill - here are a few tips that might help you reach the top:

Basic fitness levels
As with any sport, your won't get very far unless you take some sensible steps to improve your basic fitness. You wouldn't expect to run the London Marathon without doing sufficient training first, so get out and about on your bike. Try some shallow inclines to increase your fitness and stamina before considering a serious hill climb. Just get practising. Bear in mind that professional cyclists are light and lean - the less you weigh, the less weight you have to carry up a hill.

When it comes to climbing hills, all aerodynamics go out the window and you'll find sitting up high in the saddle will generate more power. Try not to move your torso too much, relax your shoulders and open up the chest to allow for easier breathing. The hands should rest fairly lightly on the handlebars in a wide grip so as not to constrict the chest; elbows should be wider than the hips and you should only need to use power of your whole arms when doing sharp climbs. Naturally, comfort is key, so make adjustments to suit where necessary.

Know your hills
It's advisable to map your route and measure your hills before setting out so that you don't over-exert yourself too early on. Your climbing strategy will differ depending on which of the three main types of hill. These are: convex, which is steep near the bottom; concave, steep at the top and even-grade, which usually features a uniform slope. Big hills can vary between all three, but a road surface doesn't necessarily mirror the hill's natural terrain.

Size matters
Hence the need for prior research. You should be able to power over small hills without having to go to too much effort. Yet on a convex hill, you should aim to build up speed and power on the flat before reaching the incline, letting the momentum will carry you further. Experts say that shifting down a gear is crucial for picking up speed but timing this shift is important. This is unfortunately something you may only learn through experience - too much too soon will be exhaustive, too little too late won't provide enough power.

Concave hills require a more steady climb to conserve energy levels, 'gearing down' as the steep incline approaches. At this point, you can either stand in the pedals, for extra power or drop down another gear. Let the size of the incline be the deciding factor. Even-grade hills can be climbed in the same gear, you just need to reach a steady, sustainable speed.

Back in the saddle
The more firmly planted in the saddle you are, the more efficient you will be. It feels more powerful when standing on the pedals, due to the advantage of upper body weight on the pedals, but it's worth knowing that you use up to 12 per cent more energy through the extra work required of your core and back muscles. Sitting allows the saddle to take upper body weight off your legs.

Experts say that for long, shallow climbs, cyclists should stay seated, start in a low gear and try to maintain a cadence of 80-85 revolutions per minute. That way you will burn less energy and can use the glutes and hips to best advantage. It's best to stay seated for as long as you can, though standing can break up a long climb. In that case, you should allow the bike to swing in 6 inch arcs beneath you. Bear in mind that climbing can slow you down, thus be mindful if cycling in a pack. Cycling etiquette says a timely warning of "standing" a few strokes before doing so is the polite thing to do.

Stay relaxed
If this is at all possible, of course. Some experts believe that gritting your teeth and clenching as you power up steep inclines uses more effort and directs energy away from the muscles that require it. One coach swears by meditating en route: thinking of light things such as clouds, flying or birds to promote relaxation. The goal, apparently, is to minimise unnecessary tension and encourage a stronger climb.

Ultimately, the main points that most experts seem keen to instill are to practise, build fitness and conserve energy. You may need to stop half way up, but each attempt will get your further toward the top. Then you can enjoy an exhilarating ride back down the other side as a well-deserved reward.

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