What should I be training to get up a steep hill without stopping?

I live in a very hilly area. I don’t race, and I primarily train to be able to survive long rides around where I live. I dream about maybe going to Mallorca or Girona someday, but I can’t climb very well.

I can make it up a hill like this or this no problem; I settle in at roughly sweet spot (no power meter, so I’m guessing based on my heart rate) and go. (I usually smoke my husband on those.) I can’t make it up a hill like this or this (going 6-8kph) without stopping several times (while my husband flies up it without breaking a sweat) (ok he probably breaks a sweat). When the gradient gets over about 15%, I can’t get the pedals to turn over and I feel like I’m going to fall off the bike. I stop, breathe for a bit, keep going for a bit, stop, breathe, go, etc.

I’m female, 5’11, and currently sitting at about 63kg with a 148 FTP (2.3 W/kg). My bike is set up with a compact chainset and 11-34 cassette. I’ve been training with TR plans since February 2019, when I got off the couch (SSB, Sustained Power Build, Century). I mostly climb seated; when I’ve tried standing, I get very wobbly and it seems a lot more tiring.

What should I be training to be able to make it up these steeper climbs? Am I just too big for the amount of power I can generate, so I need to keep pushing up my FTP? Should I be trying to increase the length of time I can sit at suprathreshold/VO2max? Is it a bike handling problem, and I just need to work on my balance? Or stand? How does one get from the couch to Mallorca.

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A higher FTP always helps. But also if you live there, lower gears also help. You should be able to run an mtb cassette maybe up to 50t at the back, with a larger rear derraileur cage.

There are things about climbing technique - being able to push through steep ramps standing up helps, as does riding across the road to cut the angle a bit (if it’s safe and no traffic). But doing that should really only be needed now and then, if it’s a regular occurance, improving power or gearing is better. I’d go for lower gearing until you’ve got strong enough to push a higher gear.

…lastely, I’m not sure Mallorca has many 15%+ hills. I think that’s part of the appeal, the climbs are long but doable by most.

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OK, so at 148 watts, with a rider weight of 63kg and bike weight of 8kg, calculations suggest that you’ll go up a 15% gradient at 4.52 mph. Or in a 34/34 gearing, about a 50-60rpm cadence. And if it gets steeper you’ll have to pedal even slower to stay at threshold.

So maybe some low cadence work would do you good. Even better, I’d look at doing some gym or core work to increase your strength and stability on the bike.

In the meantime, why not find a place in Mallorca that hires e-bikes? That way you could go there and get some good training, but be able to enjoy yourself and take in the scenery without worrying if you’ll make it up the next climb.

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Low cadence won’t be helping imo. The fast twitches will fatigue faster or you’ll be well over threshold and everyone has a finite time there!

I’ve a hill here, hits 23% in places and until recently I wouldn’t be in any other gear than the lowest on my MTB. Even then I’m in VO2 max area and above.

Maybe look at your gearing, then you can probably ascend closer to threshold and hopefully then not have to stop, but understand there may then be balance issue as you may be slower then.

I’m running at 32T on the front and 42-10 on the rear. Only now am I considering a 34T on the front, so to improve my top end speed on the flat as last time I did this climb I didn’t have to drop into my lowest gear… a first and shows I’m improving after three years of doing this climb. First few climbs on this hill I had to stop and because it was that steep, it was so hard to get going again. It took a year before ascending without stopping… until where I am now. But there’s another hill I haven’t cracked yet!

So in my book, you’ve still go years of gains to make, it’s early days still, keep going and you’ll eventually crack it in one ascent attempt and then set new targets.

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Thanks for all the responses. Really happily surprised to see everybody suggesting even lower gearing; I was already a little embarrassed of my 34/34.

Ok, I probably do need to work on that then, thanks.

REALLY. :heart_eyes:

Haaaa so what you’re saying is, I started out too hard. At 6kph. :rofl: [e: reading is hard…]

WELL, ok, so, I have nothing at all against e-bikes and I’m absolutely thrilled to bits that they’re increasing participation in the sport and making it accessible to people who would be discouraged or put off entirely by the physical requirements.

That said, I’m relatively young-middle-aged-ish and able-bodied, so if I go to a cycling Mecca, it’ll be a lot more satisfying if I power the experience myself.

EXCELLENT, I can put in the work for this!

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ellotheth: 4.5 mph is approximately 7.2 kph. So the calculation is saying that for this speed with 50 - 60 cadence and 15 per cent, you’ll need to be at approximately FTP. The 15 per cent section of the first of the steep climbs that you posted is just over 1 km long. So that would take you just under ten minutes. So you need to be able to hold FTP for about ten minutes, then you can recover a bit on the gentler section before hitting the rise at the end [which is, at any rate, less steep].
In other words, the appropriate TR workouts are the ones that lead into ten minutes at FTP, perhaps including over-unders.
But keep at it. Hill climbing does improve a lot with practice, like most things.

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DOH I misread, yup, mph not kph, derp.

I agree that the answer is gearing, for the short term.

Long term it’s just a matter of boosting your FTP to the point where the steepest parts of those climbs are doable at or just slightly above FTP.

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I was in Saddleworth this weekend - a very steep hilly area of the UK. On a short walk I saw three different people on e-bikes (mtbs) - and none of them looked excessively aged, overweight, or unfit. They just looked like they were enjoying the opportunity to go further and see more without limits.

Obviously it’s up to you, I understand why you might want to stick to leg power alone. But maybe it’s more satisfying to get to the top assisted than never make it there at all…

To be honest, you are likely starting out to hard. Its very easy to do, most people fall into that trap, especially if riding with others. If you have a power meter, watch it when the climb starts, and resist temptation to go over ftp or even a bit lower “while you’re still feeling good”. Shift into a low gear, and spin easily. If you haven’t got a power meter, it should feel really easy at the start. It will feel harder later!

And don’t feel embarassed about low gearing - the gears are there to get you up the hill, not to show off!

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Also, with regards of going to Mallorca - I’m sure you could go now. There are plenty of routes where you don’t encounter 15% climbs all the time. I can’t really advise, but I’m sure other will. Might be for a different thread though.

From memory there’s one section about 200m long of 10% on the Sa Calobra climb, unfortunately it’s very close to the top! Apart from that most Majorcan climbs, certainly the major ones, are in the 5-8% range and most are at the bottom end of that range, they just go on for a very long time - Puig Major from Soller is 5.6% for example, there’s a couple of hundred metres of flat but apart from that it’s select a gear and prepare to be pedalling in that gear for the next hour!

I find there’s often a gradient that just isn’t right for me - depends on the bike and gearing but I’m just not comfortable on that particular steepness. It doesn’t have to be the super steep climbs either, 16% is very common where I live with quite a number of 25% climbs.

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Oh yeah, I’ve fallen in that trap when I started riding last year.
Rode with a buddy who was more experienced and a lot fitter and tried to keep up with him on climbs.

At one point I stopped trying to follow his way of climbing and tried to find a way that worked better for me. Since I started climbing at a more steady pace over the whole climb I’ve improved tons and the difference between the two of us shrank.

@ellotheth

It might also be a bit of a psychological thing, memories of previous attempts that make you extra nervous when you see the incline go above your ‘comfort level’

See if you can ‘catch’ yourself getting extra nervous and tense when you see an incline like that or whether you feel excited by the challenge.

What I do to get some control back is exhale twice deeply, check that isn’t any extra tension in my arms, shoulders etc (Like Chad mentions in the workouts) and then keep on pedelling with the idea of 1 more pedal stroke, 1 more, 1 more etc.

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Similar W/kg and I’ve done a bunch of climbing rides, using veloviewer to search segments I see shorter high gradient segments at 3.5-4mph grinds. Did find several of roughly similar length and gradient. Two of three were near the bottom of very long climbs: cat 1 climb, short one, HC climb.

The first one I didn’t have a power meter, guesstimating 2.6W/kg. The other two I was around 2.7-2.8W/kg. Was roughly 94kg at the time. At such a low W/kg and running 34x32 gearing there is a strong mental component to pushing thru the really steep pitches.

The last one (HC climb) was best paced effort, FTP was 261 and basically rode it at threshold with excursions over threshold. My lactate HR threshold is 161bpm (on a HRmax of 175):

In addition to being able to mentally and physically work for long durations at +/- threshold, I also think having more short power helps to “punch back” when the grade spikes up. You’ve done a lot of strength endurance work with SSB/Sustained/Century progression, maybe its time to work on short power this time around? (my FTP only gets above 250W when I spend time ‘raising the ceiling’ with vo2 / short power work.

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Not an expert by any means, but if you get wobbly when you climb out of the saddle, that may indicate a lack of core strength, which would limit your power both standing and sitting. Some core work might give you the extra power you are looking for to grind your way up some steep climbs.

BTW, Girona has a wide variety of routes to cycle, everything from nonstop climbs to pancake-flat. Apps like Komoot let you tailor your rides to have as much or as little climbing as you want. There’s no need to wait to ride there unless your only goal is to crush KOM’s.

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Practice practice practice? For the ones around you you probably know them and how to pace them pretty well so start easy. As in pre-select the lightest gear you have at the base of the climb or even rolling into it. Try to stay in the saddle. Accept you may end up needing to push above threshold (I dont think many people can ride up 15% grades beneath threshold).

You’ve made awesome strides in your training since you got on the bike and definitely more to come. Just keep doing the training that suits you and the performance will come.

Though it might be worth considering sustained power build and climbing road race speciality next time around if you specifically want to target climbing stuff.

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Yeah this definitely happens. As soon as I look up and see the grade in front of me something just checks out, no way that’s happening without toppling over, better stop. I need keep my head down and breathe. :sweat_smile:

Yeah, I think so. I was contemplating maybe Climbing Road Race instead of Century this time around? I’ve got a long ride over a couple days planned for next spring, so I do want to keep some of the sustained power base, but I know the high intensity stuff is probably my weakest area.

Gah I need to put yoga back in, that was so helpful when I was doing it a few months ago. Felt so much better on the bike, lower back pain legit disappeared.

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HA, VALIDATION :100:

you should be training 2 things. riding at tempo longer and riding at threshold longer. i do 1hr long interval blocks. just this sunday i did 90 minutes of over/unders. or rather holding tempo, and surging to sweet spot, and then back, for 90 minutes.

other times i do 1hr at sweet spot, and other times, i’ll do 40 minutes at threshold.

the big thing though, is being able to surge to ftp (and above as you hit bumps and what not) and then recover in sweet spot.

@ 63kg you’re a lightweight, but with a ftp of 148 its tough. i have a local road that is 12% average over 3-4 mi (can’t remember exactly…but if you lived in my area, it’s famous). It starts @ 10% and then climbs up to near 20%.

The last time I climbed it, I was 195lb, FTP around 210-ish? I can’t recall as I almost never use a FTP test any more. It was impossible for me to push 34x32 at that level. Even at 28x32 it was tough.

Now that I’m 165lb with 238+ FTP, and focus on long duration tempo and threshold efforts, I can go up hills without much of an issue (on the road and gravel), but hills that surge (i.e., technical climbing on a MTB) is still really hard as you go anaerobic all the time getting stuck on rocks. Technique sure, but there’s still a significant amount of mashing pedals to get momentum and lifting wheels, still redlines me and sometimes I just pop and have to stop and catch my breath.

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Not for a woman :smiley:

A couple of you folks have said something similar to this, and it’s really encouraging. Maybe I’m not there yet, but it sounds like it’s an achievable thing if I keep working.