Today La Velocita is talking climbing. Brendan Edwards examines what it takes to become a better climber.
What draws us out of our comfort zone to want to ride up a hill? Is it the view from the top? The fast descent on the other side? Or is it the challenge that each and every hill offers?
Words and Images - Brendan Edwards
There is a certain magic to climbing, the feeling of jubilation in making it to the top of a hard climb. This article isn't about sugar coating what climbing is about. Let’s face it, it’s hard. There is no such thing as an easy climb. What we hope to offer are a few ways that you can make climbing easier and to get pride and excitement from your climbing.
Everyone battles demons during a climb. We have. I’m sure there’s some sophisticated phycological methods to help get around this, but for most of us it’s just about focus.
What has gone through your mind when you’re hitting a really difficult part of a climb? Are you one who has thoughts of giving up, or do you knuckle down and push through the pain to do what needs to be done to get to the top?
Experience – ride as many different climbs as you can
You’ll find that each hill has its own character. Over time you will find that you naturally develop an instinct for the road. You’ll get a feeling for how hard you can push over varying distances and different types of gradients. It’s important that a climber understands their strengths and weaknesses. The wise rider is one who finds a balance.
Having experience on the hills brings a toughness that you dpn’t get from riding flat roads day in day out. It will help push you through the challenges you may find getting up a big climb.
Technique - In or out of the saddle?
Remember a time when you’ve been forced to get out of your saddle. Your legs may have been feeling like lead and were screaming out in pain. Getting out of the saddle is hard and requires strength and cardio conditioning. As a result some riders tend to avoid getting out of the saddle if they can avoid it.
There are benefits to getting out of the saddle. You use your shoulders and hip muscles to rock your bike in a swaying motion, to help with ascendancy. This allows some leg muscles a chance to recover that will help you get up the climb more efficiently.
There is also a small matter of saddle soreness… it can be a welcome relief to stand up to take pressure off your backside.
If you want to become stronger at getting out of the saddle then you need to force yourself to get out of the saddle more frequently, and to do it as a matter of habit, not out of necessity. You won’t develop the core strength required unless you are practicing getting out of the seat in a variety of different conditions and gradients.
Conditioning – Climbing k’s
If you want to become a better endurance rider there’s no use doing lots of short rides. The same applies to become a better climber. To get better at climbing, climb more. Choose the hard route home. If you’re preparing for a ‘Peaks’ style ride then get out in some hills and climb.
You may not like this piece of advice. We may seem a bit sadistic by saying this. If you want to condition yourself, then you need to train your legs when they’re nice and tired. Any chance you get at the end of a ride throw an extra climb in…. or three just to work those legs over a bit more and build up that extra bit of endurance.
For those that have completed the Peaks ride, Audax Alpine Classic or similar can appreciate how hard it is to do a climb like the Back of Falls on dead legs.
Becoming a better climber doesn't happen overnight. It can take quite a while to develop the core muscles required to improving your climbing ability. If you do the right training, over time you will find that you will be naturally getting up hills quicker, more efficiently.
It’s no secret that to become a better climber you just need to climb. The more you climb, the better you get.
The Mind Game - What has helped you get through tough moments previously?
Think back to the toughest moments you’ve ever experienced on the bike, or in life generally. Think about what you did to succeed, what did you think about, how did you prepare yourself? Next time you hit a really tough moment, draw on that method to get the motivation to inspire you to succeed yet again
Exploring the ‘Pain Cave’
Most climbers are familiar with the pain cave. That place you go when things are getting really tough. It’s quiet in there. It’s just you, your breathing, your front wheel and the road one metre in front of your wheel. Your legs hurt. Your back hurts, your shoulders and neck hurt.
You’ll see Pro riders in the pain cave, do they stop. No. Whilst unfortunately most of us won’t be able to climb like Alberto Contador, we can take heart from the spirit that he tackles a climb, and you can emulate his spirit if you want to improve your climbing.
Through long climbs you’ll no doubt enter the pain cave, but you can come out, refocus, check your form and change your mind set… and you're off again. You’ll be in and out a few times but remain positive and you’ll be out and all smiles at the top knowing you’ve beaten it.
Try to remain strong and positive throughout a climb, and try not to give up!
Climbing is not meant to be easy. When you’re in a group climbing it’s not necessarily the strongest climber who will get up the quickest. It’s the one most willing to push themselves the hardest who will be the King of the Mountain.
Climbing is as much a mental battle as it is a physical battle.
There is no magic solution to becoming a better hill climber. Technical aids can help, power metres, heart rate monitors, cadence… the list long. But we thing the purest way is to just get out there and climb.
Climbing isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and body shape plays a big part… but whilst its not meant to be easy, there is something rewarding about taking on the challenge of a difficult climb and succeeding in making it to the top.
La Velocita loves to ride, and loves it when you ride and hopefully this insight into climbing we’ve offered will help you get up a hill easier the next time you climb.
We’d love to hear from you if you have any other tips or suggestions to improve your climbing please let us know in the comments section below.