Hill Training for Running and Cycling: How to Be a Better Climber

Wherever you choose to race, one thing is almost certain: You will have some hills to navigate. In Northwest races, you are sure to encounter a good amount of climbing. And, depending on your overall goal, you may see hills as simple obstacles to conquer en route to a strong finish, or as the deciding point in the competition for top placing. Hills have the potential to slow you down more than any other factor. But they are also the place where you can make the most gains.

Different terrain favors different body types and skill sets. In general, the steeper the hills, the more strength-to-weight ratio matters. Runners and cyclists both benefit from being lighter, as long as it isn’t at the expense of power output. For most casual athletes, losing body fat is one of the easiest ways to quickly improve. Of course, it’s important to do this in a healthy manner. This can be accomplished by cleaning up and fine-tuning your diet to suit your metabolic needs. This way, you’ll lose fat without dieting — which is healthier and more sustainable. Don’t obsess about body weight. Understand that you will attain ideal body composition when you get in line with your body’s needs.

Preparing yourself for different types of hills will require some different strategies in your training. You will face many variables in length, shape and steepness of hills. You can break the demands down into a few different types of workouts and integrate them into your routine. You’ll benefit the most if you know the type of terrain you will be facing in your races. That way, you can match your training to these demands.

Here are four potential hill workouts:

The Long, Steady Climb

You may see more of this type of climb in mountainous regions. You may be asked to climb for 10 minutes up to over an hour. In training, measure your effort to the length of the interval. If you are doing 10- to 20-minute intervals, you may maintain a higher intensity at 85 to 95 percent of lactate threshold (LT). Long intervals (up to one hour) will require you to dial it down to a more sustainable, yet challenging pace (75  to 85 percent of LT).

The Short, Sharp Climb

You will see this type of climb in lower elevations, coastal ranges and valleys. This climb requires a short duration, but very high power output. This will typically challenge your LT and elevate your heart rate to close to maximum. The short, sharp climb hurts, but it will be a lot easier to handle with some preparation. Do short hill repeats of 30 seconds to four minutes at 95  to 105 percent of LT to stimulate your body to handle these greater efforts.

The Rollers

To stimulate more race-specific stress/recovery, you may train at a tempo/race pace and add special effort on the climbs. Attempt to carry your speed over the top of the climbs and recover while still keeping up your pace (rather than lowering your effort for a complete recovery). This will give you the feeling of sustained discomfort that you face in a race situation. And it will stimulate your body to recover under stress. Efforts should range from 85  to 100 percent of LT on climbs and 75  to 95 percent of LT on flats and downhills.

Fartlek / Speed Play

Including unstructured quality efforts into your workouts is known as fartlek training. This adds to the quality of the workout. You may switch up the length, type and effort within the session based on how you are feeling. This type of workout is meant to include fuller recovery between efforts than the previous workout. You can mix and match your efforts: long and short, harder and easier, long recovery and short recovery.

How do you know when you’re ready to start these higher intensity workouts? In general, these types of workouts are suitable for any level athlete. It is advisable to start with shorter, less intense efforts and then progress to harder workloads. As always, recovery is key. Any hard session should be followed with a suitable recovery period to make sure you absorb the stress and keep getting stronger. You may integrate one or two of these workouts into your routine, depending on your recovery ability. You will soon notice results and reap rewards for your efforts. Becoming a stronger climber is one of the most satisfying things you will do as an endurance athlete. Cruising over a climb when your competitors are suffering is a sweet feeling!

Tim Monaco is a Multi-Sport Coach, Licensed Massage Therapist, Corrective Exercise Specialist and Holistic Lifestyle Coach that works out of Recharge in Bend, OR. He is a former professional triathlete who has won Vineman Ironman, Buffalo Springs Lake 70.3 and has completed 15 International Ironman Events. He can be contacted at (541) 948-7018 or http://www.interactivebodybalancing.com/