Ah, climbing. Some cyclists live for it, while others dread it. The best way to enjoy climbing is to get better at it, so we’ve brought together 7 tips which will help you climb our virtual hills, and the outdoor ones as well. Up up up!
#1: Be Cool
Climbing means more resistance, and more resistance means more work. Be sure to use a fan to keep your core temperature down so you can perform at your best!
For more information on why cooling is important for indoor riding, and how to do it best, read Staying Cool on Zwift.
#2: Lose Weight
Easier said than done, perhaps. But cyclists know it’s the lightweight riders who win in the hills. If climbing performance is a top goal, you will need to make daily decisions to drop excess weight so you can increase your power to weight ratio.
It is difficult (and sometimes impossible) to lose significant weight while maintaining your power levels. Keeping your wattage up while dropping weight is a delicate balancing act, and one that is best supervised by a qualified coach and/or nutritionist.
Of course, you can also ride a lighter bike. This can get expensive outdoors, but on Zwift you have access to the Drop Shop which is stocked with an ever-increasing number of virtual frames and wheelsets. If a frame is rated at 2 stars for weight, it will climb slower than a frame rated at 4 stars.
Find a frame and wheelset with a high star weight rating and you can trim seconds or even minutes off of your climbs. Learn more at Garage Guide: Choosing the Best Frame and Wheelset for Your Event.
#3: Spinners are Winners
Try to spin a comfortable cadence (~75-85rpm) so you aren’t mashing on the pedals as you climb. Mashing puts more stress on the knees and uses more of your fast twitch muscles, which fatigue quickly and use more glycogen than slow twitch muscles.
The other benefit of spinning a higher climbing cadence in races is that you save your fast-twitch muscles for shorter, harder efforts such as sprints or short attacks on small climbs.
#4: Adjust Trainer Difficulty
If you are running out of gears on Zwift’s steeper climbs, try reducing your trainer difficulty. This will reduce your need to shift, and allow you to spin a higher cadence up steep climbs.
Looking to feel every bit of every climb? Bump that trainer difficulty up past the default setting of 50%! Fair warning: you will need a decent direct-drive smart trainer to accurately reproduce the feel of our steepest roads. And you may run out of gears on these roads if your trainer difficulty is at or near 100%.
Learn more about the trainer difficult setting at Zwift How-to: Adjusting Your Trainer Difficulty.
#5: Keep it Relaxed
An aero posture is much less important at climbing speeds, so riders on hills typically sit more upright while gripping their bars on the hoods or tops. Keep your grip light, and try to relax your upper body.
This relaxation saves oxygen, plus it plays mind games with your riding buddies who don’t understand how you make it look so easy!
#6: Tilt Your Bike
Different riding positions use different muscles, and the more you train in a particular position the better you’ll perform there.
Training on Zwift so you can perform better on outdoor climbs? Try raising your front tire! This may be as easy as putting a thick book or block beneath your front wheel. Or you can use the Wahoo Kickr Climb which raises and lowers your bike to match the gradients in Zwift, making the experience even more immersive.
#7: Practice, Practice, Practice
Because the posture and muscles used for climbing are a bit different than those used on flat roads, the same power level often feels different on a climb than it does on a flat. If you want to climb faster, you’ll need to train on climbs!
Apart from simply doing a lot of climbing, common workouts to help you get up the hills faster include low cadence work and hill repeats.
Low cadence work means staying seated while turning the pedals at ~60-70rpm. Keep the effort medium-high and sustainable in order to build strength from the added resistance.
Hill repeats have been a staple cycling workout for decades. They can be done as many times as you’d like on any length of hill, but for starters, look for a 6-8 minute climb, then shoot for 3-4 repeats. Ride up the climb at your maximum sustainable pace, recover on the descent, then do it again.
Good hill repeat climbs in Zwift include London’s Box and Fox Hills, Watopia’s Hilly KOM in the reverse direction, Watopia’s Volcano Climb, and New York City’s KOM. Simply ride to the top of these climbs, then flip a U-turn to descend and do it all again.
If you want to go faster uphill, there are many ways to get there. Some just require a few mouse clicks, while others require hours of training and discipline. In the end, like all things sport, you’ll get out what you put in. So give it your best, and we’ll see you at the top!