Whether you loathe it or love it, climbing — unless you only ride park or do shuttle laps — is a necessary part of mountain biking. And while climbing may never be easy, there are a few things you can do to make riding uphill less of a struggle, and dare we say, even enjoyable!
Here are 8 ways to improve your climbing:
1) Fuel yourself. Pay close attention to calorie and water intake, and be sure to make a pit stop to top off before you start the climb, particularly if it comes mid ride or toward the end of your ride. You’ll feel better mentally and physically with something in the tank.
2) Pace yourself. Especially on longer climbs, or if you don’t know how long the climb is. Starting up the hill full boar will likely result in burnout later on, so approach the climb slowly and steadily to save energy for steeper pitches, and the rest of your ride.
3) Mind over matter. Resist temptation to fall into a negative headspace. Once you go down the rabbit hole of doom, it’s pretty tough to pull yourself out. Think about getting to the top, and know that the fruits of your labor — going down, great view — will be worth it.
4) Find a good cadence. A higher cadence (how fast you turn the pedals) on a lower gear, especially on longer climbs, is more efficient than a low cadence on a higher gear. Powering through in a higher/harder gear may seem faster, but it will drain your energy and you’ll burn out before you reach the top. Look for a sweet spot that’s smooth, consistent and sustainable.
5) Focus on the breath. Breathe as deeply as possible so that oxygenated blood is delivered to your legs. Deeper breathing also calms the mind. Avoid slouching to keep your chest open, which will help your breathing.
6) Help your legs. Don’t let your lower body bear the entire burden — especially when things get steep. Tuck your elbows in, lower your torso toward the bars and pull back on the bars with your hands with every downstroke. This will help transfer some power from your core to your legs. If you’re riding flats, avoid mashing the pedals so your quads don’t pump out.
7) Break it up. An effective mental trick is to break up the climb into sections, especially on longer, more difficult pushes. Small goals are less daunting. Another trick is to pick a spot up the trail and ride to that, and continue doing that so you have something to focus on all the way up the hill.
8) Take breaks. If you find yourself anxious, or anaerobic to a point that’s unsustainable, stop and rest. Catch your breath and try to calm your mind. And remember, it’s only temporary!
BONUS: Don’t avoid it. The only way to feel better on climbs is to climb more often. As your fitness improves, you will get up the hill faster and it may even be more enjoyable!