Hill Training for Cyclists

I speak to a lot of people who love cycling.  Whether they commute to work or cycle seriously or competitively, cycling is a great form of exercise, and is fairly gentle on joints meaning that you could build it into a wider programme as a great form of cardio recovery.  One thing that many cyclists have in common is a dislike of hills.  Some of the cycle commuters I know add miles onto their daily route in order to avoid climbing.  Make no mistake, riding up hills isn’t easy (and a lot of the time isn’t fun either), but it’s a great way of increasing the intensity of your workout.  Here’s a quick guide to hill training for cyclists that will stop you worrying about those climbs and give you more confidence at getting up slopes.

Cycling Up Hill Burns More Calories

If you do anything that’s more intense as part of your workout, you’ll add additional calories into what you burn.  As a rough guide, a 75KG person cycling up hill for 50 metres will burn an additional 36 calories simply lifting their body.  That might not seem like much until you remember that the basic rate of calorie burn for cyclists is about 49 calories in 10 minutes.  Adding hills into your route could easily add 50% to the calories you burn as well as giving increasing the cardio effort – which will make you more fit.

Cycle Hill Training

When you watch a bike race like the Tour de France, the cyclists often tackle mind blowing ascents – some of the hardest climbs in the Tour are more than 10KM of incline with peak slopes above 20%.  You’re unlikely to hit roads like that unless you’re dedicated cyclist.

hill training for cyclists

The Col du Tourmalet – one of the hardest climbs in cycling

Most of us will find though that there are some less intense climbs that we can add into our routes quite easily.  It’s a good idea to find a route (or a loop that involves a regular climbing section – perhaps 10% of your total ride being up hill will ensure that you have a good balance between flat riding and ascents.  That will give you recovery periods in between the periods of higher effort.

Pace yourself

The main goal of hill training for cyclists is to make it easier to get up hills at other times.  When you’re on a training ride, you should try and keep your cadence (pedalling speed) constant throughout the ride.  This means that you will often find yourself changing gear to maintain a level.  When climbing aim for a consistent pedalling pace rather than a consistent road speed.  Sure, you could probably go faster in the early parts of the hill, but a steady pace and a good rhythm will really help you to develop your skills.


If you’re concentrating on your pacing, it can be easy to lose control of your breathing – you focus on the effort and lose focus on the breathing.  When you’re burning more calories you need more oxygen.  Breathe throughout your hill training routine to help your body work at peak efficiency.

Augment Your Training

It’s easy to think that all hill training for cyclists is done on the bike. It’s not.  Riding up hills better means improving your power to weight ratio.  intensifying your ride will help you to lose more weight, but it’s a good idea to add some weight training into your plan too.  Squats will help you push harder, while lunges will improve the balance of your body.  Try a squats workout that combines short periods of lifting heavier weight with periods of lower weight and higher reps to simulate cycling.

Enjoy It

The better you get at riding hills the easier it will be, but even novice climbers get benefits from hill training for cyclists – most notably the pleasure of riding a descent after getting to the top, and the endorphin rush you get after intense exercise.