Outdoor hill climbs are a bit of a shock after so much indoor riding and structured workouts!

I usually do most of my training indoors on the turbo and I race in about 3 or 4 TT’s per month.

I do the occassional outdoor group ride (2 a month) and I notice that on the flats and small inclines that I can easily hold power and maintain good speed.

However when the road rises up I feel that my indoor training hasn’t really helped as much as I thought it would. I get up hills ok but it feels harder than it should.

Most of these hills are not long. Perhaps 2 to 6 minutes and with gradients of between 5% and 14%.

It feels like my body just isn’t used to the hills. It kind of feels like slightly different muscle groups or parts of muscles are used more outdoors especially on hills, than when riding indoors.

Why is it so hard to replicate hill climbs on the trainer?

I am currently in a low volume build phase and my FTP is set at 305 but is probably a bit higher at about 315 right now. I weigh 79 kgs.

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What is your cadence like on these hill climbs? I could see what you’re describing being the case if you were grinding a low cadence on the climb (at those grades I could see some people running out of gears, which necessitates grinding at a low cadence), TR is more training you to adapt to a higher cadence; not a lot of slow cadence work in the (limited) training plans I have done.


What trainer do you use?

Do you use ERG or Resistance modes (if you have a smart trainer)?

What gearing do you use on the trainer?

As above, what is your cadence in training vs on these harder hills?


I think the biggest difference is going to be in the way that you are positioned on the bike while on your trainer vs how you are seated on your bike while going up an actual hill. When you are on an include, gravity is forcing your to adopt a different position on while you push the pedals. Unless you have a tilting trainer, you won’t really be able to push your pedals in the same way. So, I think you are correct in your assessment. I think this will be more evident the steeper the gradient. I’m not so sure how much cadence will have an effect, but personally I do notice I push bigger gears and a lower cadence outside on the climbs than on the trainer.


Your feelings are correct!!!

The short answer is that you can’t recreate the “Y” component of gravitational forces on an indoor trainer.

The long answer . . .

When you climb a hill, the force of gravity pushing you backwards that you need to overcome with your pedal stroke can be broken down into 2 components - X (horizontal) and Y (vertical) (think of a x-y graph). The steeper the incline, the greater the Y (and less X; and vice versa).

On an indoor trainer, you can replicate the X force through greater resistance (on a smart or dumb trainer, or on rollers). But you can’t replicate the Y component (elevating the front wheel changes your body angle, but doesn’t change gravitational force). The net result is that you are working slightly different muscles (and more so the steeper the hill) as you climb a hill than you are when riding on flat roads, including on trainers.

[btw: This is why power comparison between riders on flats is done on pure Watts basis as there is no vertical force component to overcome other than rolling resistance where body mass has limited influence. And, of course, body weight has significant influence on hill climbing speed, that is on the Y component of force required, and hence power is measure in WpKg]

Bottom line: As my coach (Floyd Landis and Tinker Juarez coach) told me 15 years ago, “If you want to be a good hill climber, you gotta climb hills"


My average cadence on the Trainer is between 85 and 95. Usually over 90.

This is also the case in the TT’s I do. Usually averaging just over 90.

I also try to spin up hills rather than push a big gear. However I will get up out of the saddle and push a slightly higher gear if the hill is just a hundred yards long or so and power over it.

I definitely feel a different ache in my leg muscles when doing these short drags and hills than I do on the trainer. I would also say that most of my TT’s are on flattish or slightly rolling courses and I lose valuable seconds more than I should, when the roads rise up a bit.

My trainer is not a smart trainer but a decent cyclops super magneto pro model.

I don’t feel I have mimicked these short sharp hill climbs in my workouts so far, otherwise I wouldn’t notice it quite so much in the real world.

Incidentally, I do ride at a decent pace outside. A recent ride was about 25 mile long and the elevation per garmin was over 1600 ft on the ride and my pace was just over 20 mph.

You want to get good at climbing? Start doing low cadence muscle tension intervals on climbs. Or I guess you could try on a trainer.


That’s why this exists :smiley:



That has 4 different settings with a selection knob on the flywheel?

Which setting are you using?

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I agree with the points above. The trainer is good for tempo, steady-state, and VO2MAX intervals, but climbing has to be done on the road. Core strength, arm strength, leg stabilization, and position are completely different on road climbs. It’s best to mix actual road climbs with intervals on the trainer to be the most well rounded.


Thanks for all the replies. I think the bottom line is that I need to do some hill reps outside. Probably just 30min to 1 hour outside a week specifically on hills will sort this out for me.

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Quote: “That has 4 different settings with a selection know on the flywheel? Which setting are you using?”

All these 4 settings do is increase the weight of the fly wheel, effectively increasing the resistance. It still doesn’t really replicate the bodies muscle uses going up a hill etc.

That’s not true. It alters the position of the spring-balanced magnets in the flywheel. What it changes is the proximity of the magnets to the aluminum that generates the resistance. As a result, it alters the power curve and the effective wheel speed that particular resistance is available.

CycleOps Power Curve Info Page

TrainerRoad SuperMagneto Pro Page
The resistance roughly doubles at the same speed (20 mph and higher) between the lowest and the highest resistance settings.

Official CycleOps Video:

As such, you can use the “Mountain” setting to get more resistance at a lower wheel speed. It is essentially a limited version of what we do with smart trainers in lower gearing.

If you get the same resistance at a lower wheel speed, the flywheel spins slower, and will be a bit closer to the lower rolling inertia when climbing outside.

All that said, what setting have you been using?


I could be wrong about this, but I feel like some of this also has to do with upper body strength. Recently I entered a mountain biking race (single-speed with some climbing) after a few months of indoor training and felt like my arms were jello after a while and I wasn’t getting the assist in rocking the bike back and forth that I used to when I was doing more outdoor training. If you take the arms out of the equation, wouldn’t that also reduce your climbing capacity?

Upper body strength can matter, but I find it is a lower factor for road riding.

In your example, single-speed MTB, there is a HUGE level of effort required to make that work. It is vastly different from a road bike with gearing options and presumably “normal” cadence and pedaling. SSMTB is a difficult and rare beast in comparison.

This is probably the answer more than anything about cadence/gradient angle etc.

What plan have you been doing?

If you haven’t done any type of shorter effort training, it is not surprising that you are having a tough time with these hills on the group ride where you can’t choose your pace up the climbs.


I did a couple crits that had hills lasting about 1-2 minutes. SSB, Short Power Build, and Crit Specialty touch on these but not close to the extent that I did in the races and it showed. On a power to weight curve, the shorter TR intervals in those plans don’t come close to the curves used in WKO to help compare data to the different class categories. I realize that WKO curves are not the end all but they’re a guide nonetheless.

Anything 8+ minutes long, my data looks good for where I’m at but everything under 8 minutes isn’t near the same level.

If you are stuck indoors or live in the flat lands, Zwift does a pretty decent job of simulating climbs if you have a smart trainer and pick the right routes.

TR can get you in shape to climb but it not going to make you run out of gears or force you to do long intervals outside your preferred cadence and power ranges. You can kind of do that yourself but its easier to do that if the simulated (or real … . .) grade is forcing it on you.

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The Zwift recommendation doesn’t apply to the OP since he has a standard (dumb) trainer. But it may work for others reading this, if they have smart trainers and want to pay for a 2nd subscription. I do agree there are good uses of Zwift for an instance like this.

But you can easily leverage TR to get similar efforts from the trainer applied to your body. Proper gear selection for desired flywheel inertia, and related cadences choices in ERG mode with a smart trainer can yield the same basic results as “climbing” in Zwift.

The core issue is cadence along with flywheel speed. You can work a wide range via ERG mode and deliberate use of the trainer and bike gearing. It’s one of the advantages that a smart trainer has over a standard trainer.

That flexibility can be applied to many types of intervals, in whole or part, and at some or all of them within a TR workout. Looking beyond the simple interval itself and thinking about how it relates to equivalent workout outside is the key. Then apply the various tools and tricks above to make them work for your intended goals or event.

I have done a TON of “hill work” over the last 2 years (in ERG with many different TR workouts) once I realized the best ways to mimic my needs with the trainer and workouts. It just takes a bit of planning and application within the workouts, but can yield great results with minimal extra work.


Coming from someone who only uses rollers indoors, it takes a few weeks outdoors of some highers torque + high power sessions before climbing feels like it should.

The TR plan hardly has me going over 400 watts, but that is pretty common outdoors when hitting a short climb.

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