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Guide To Conquering Climbs

Hills, some people love them and some seem to hate them. Climbing isn't everyones favorite but many seem to ask, how do I improve my climbing skills? When I began cycling, I had no idea there was wrong and right way of climbing, I just adjusted my gears, set my mind to it and rode up with searing pain in my legs. When I began road cycling, I discovered that climbing was an art and much of your skill is in your mind as in your bike and body. Today, developing my climbing skills have helped me to become an enthusiastic climber so to help you overcome your climbing fears, here are a few tips to help you conquer the mountains.

Positive Thinking
I put this one first because self doubt seems to be the biggest challenge most of us face when looking up a hill. Climbing is as much a mental effort as it is physical. One way to help you muster up the courage to climb is by speaking to yourself positively. I have a mantra I use when I climb "I can to this. I am strong. I can conquer. I got this." These short out spoken affirmations help me to not just control my thoughts but also my breathing. When your mind, breathing and body are in sync, you are much likely able to achieve and conquer a climb.

Breath
When climbing, you'll be breathing hard but you shouldn't lose control of your breath. When climbing, try to sync your breath with each pedal while keeping your effort at a comfortable level. You'll want to keep your breathing in check as your effort level will be influenced by how you control it.

Loose Hands
I remember someone telling me to climb like I was pretending to play a piano on the to of my bars and to focus my pedaling with my glutes (while sitting). You don't want to move your entire body into a pedal as you need to distribute your weight and effort into the back of your legs, were the pedal power is. So relax into a climb by tucking but slightly flaring your elbows, loosen your face grit, and relax your shoulders down and back as you pedal and breath in sync while keeping your fingers playing your bar tops like a piano.

Gears
Depending on your bike, having the right gearing is key to attempting even some of the biggest climbs. Not using your shifts properly can either drop your chain or break it so you'll want to know how to properly use your shifts. For climbing, shifting in a gear that you can spin easily into before you go up harder can help you as you begin to feel increased pressure in your pedal, as the pressure increases shift again. To conserve your energy on a climb, keep your cadence high and use the easiest gear that will allow you to maintain your momentum going up, you'll need to keep this in mind on long rides. For more tips on using your gears, read up on this article on How To Use Your Gears Cycling Uphill.

Pedal Push
Speaking of pushing, your heels are your power. Keep your feet flat and push with your heels as if you're scraping them into the ground, as apposed to your toes. By pushing through your heels you transfer all that power from your glutes, hamstrings, and calves into your pedal stroke. 

Weight Balance
Shifting your weight on the saddle while climbing is also an art. Shifting your weight forward and back on the saddle can provide you a fresh set of muscles to use and prevent them from burning out. While sitting on the back of your saddle balances your effort between your quads, glutes, and hamstrings, moving forwards emphasizes the use of your quads, while leaning in or "gnawing" on your bars will help distribute weight to the front wheel and prevent it from losing traction with the road as you pull on the bars to help move power on your pedals. Standing up out of your saddle will help push your weight into your pedal. When standing out of your saddle, shift once into a harder gear, keep your weight centered in the bottom bracket and your hips over the saddle, placing your hands on the hoods, gently pressing side to side into the bars. While you'll be using all your body weight to climb, the standing position uses more energy and speeds up your heart rate, so it's advisable to stand only when you need to. 

Know Your Limits
If you find that climbing hills is just too much or painful, there is no shame in knowing your limits and walking it the rest of the way. Pacing yourself on a climb is key, even if that means setting up goals on a climb like reaching a post, stopping for a bit and focusing on the next goal. 

It's always helpful to have someone who is skilled to ride with you to give you tips. Once you've built your skills, you can then focus on building your strength and speed to help you fly uphill. The best way to get better at climbing is to just get out on your bike and climb up as many hills as you can. Doing reps can really help you overcome your fears and build your strength and confidence. Best thing to keep in mind during your training is to work out your weaknesses, once you're able to work them out, you'll be a climber in no time.

Image Courtesy: Machines For Freedom

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