If you are a cycling enthusiast, then you have probably cycled uphill on many occasions. Whether you relish the challenge of cycling uphill, or hate coming across a hill on your journey, one area you might have wondered about is the pros and cons of uphill cycling.
In this article, we will explore our top tips for cycling uphill, as well as any benefits and risks of uphill cycling. We will also explore how you can start cycling uphill if you haven’t already, as well as answering any other questions you have about cycling uphill.
Whether you’re a cycling novice, or you’d consider yourself a master in the saddle, our guide aims to fill you in on everything you need to know about uphill cycling, and how it could be something you aim to include in your future schedule.
- What Does Cycling Uphill Involve?
- Top Tips For Cycling Uphill
- The Benefits Of Cycling Uphill
- Risks of Cycling Uphill
- How to Start Cycling Uphill
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Our Conclusions
If you consider yourself confident in all things fitness, though, then perhaps a career in exercise could be your calling.
OriGym’s internationally recognised personal training courses offer an unparalleled package, with 7 days a week expert advice, a library of online resources, free examination resits, and a guaranteed post-course interview at nationally recognised gyms.
Click here to download our FREE prospectus, and explore more of what we offer, and how it could be ideal for you!
Written by Professional S & C Coaches
Download Your FREE 16 Week Home Strength Training Programme
Written by Professional S & C Coaches
What Does Cycling Uphill Involve?
While this may seem self-explanatory, especially as uphill cycling seems to give a very accurate description on its own, it’s important to fully define what we’ll be discussing, as well as how it can affect your muscles, joints and body.
Cycling uphill, as you might expect, requires you to approach a steep gradient with great acceleration, and then continue at a steady cadence as you climb up the hill. This is a kind of resistance exercise - you need to fight against the resistance provided by the hill in order to continue climbing.
One key thing to note is that hills can vary in steepness and size, so it is important to know what type of hill you are about to tackle and adjust your cycling uphill technique, especially if you’re an uphill cycling beginner, or are unsure about the hill you’ll be climbing.
Cycling uphill involves establishing a good balance between physical fitness and mental fitness. You have got to have the motivation to persevere up a tough climb (check out our top running motivational quotes for that extra boost), but at the same time it really helps if you are in good shape as well.
Your cycling uphill technique, clothing and respiration control also matter when cycling up hills. It’s important to balance your breathing, and ensure you’re getting enough oxygen to your muscles as they strain to get up the hill.
While uphill cycling already sounds challenging, it is incredibly rewarding, and following these tips can ensure you get the most out of your cycling.
Tips for Cycling Uphill
#1 - Plan Ahead
Starting off our tips for cycling uphill is an obvious one, but you would be surprised how many people don’t do it – plan ahead!
When cycling uphill, you need to know exactly what you are tackling. The length, the gradient, the maximum gradient and how long it will take. You can’t just choose a random hill somewhere to venture up - it’s imperative that you do your research.
It could be a harder climb than you’d initially thought, or maybe not hard enough, especially if you’re an experienced cyclist. Understanding your route is paramount, particularly if you’re looking to challenge yourself, and are seeking to use uphill cycling to augment your cyclist nutrition plan.
You will need to know what route to take up the hill. You could even print out notes on the route and stick them to your handlebars. The route will tell you the trickiest parts of the journey, the landmarks that can help you know how far you have travelled, how long is left on your climb, what gear you should be in, and whereabouts you can save and burn energy.
It could be a good idea to at first cycle uphill with a buddy. This way you can help each other get through the tough parts of the climb. There will also be less chance of you getting lost if you cycle together.
#2 - Master Your Technique
Your cycling uphill technique is really important when conquering hills. With the right cycling uphill technique, you can avoid injury, save more energy and overall find it easier to climb hills.
When cycling uphill, many riders make the mistake of standing on their pedals. This is all well and good for 10 to 20 seconds at a time, but we wouldn’t recommend this for the majority of your climb. The key tip to help you master your cycling uphill technique is to stay seated.
The best technique for cycling uphill involves you keeping a low centre of gravity with a straight back and bent elbows. Staying seated helps you be more efficient in the long run and preserve power.
Or, if you’re looking to save even more power, then an electric bike could be your best option - explore more in OriGym’s complete report on the best electric folding bikes.
Keeping low on the bike helps you avoid the headwind and makes you more aerodynamic, which is incredibly important when trying to gain momentum up a hill. Research shows that a well-trained cyclist is more economical when using a higher pedalling frequency during seated uphill cycling than using a lower pedal frequency in a standing position.
Sometimes it is good to get out of your seat to give your back muscles a rest and break the monotony of constantly being in the saddle, but in the long term it is just not practical when considering your uphill cycling technique.
You’ll exhaust your muscles much more quickly, tire your upper body, and dissipate your power early on. But standing every now and again will offer you a burst of power when you are battling steeper sections of the hill and can help you turn higher gears.
#3 - Pace Yourself
Pacing ties into why you should stay seated for the majority of your cycle uphill. You need to spare as much energy as you can, and standing on your pedals won’t help you to do that. It’s incredibly important to apportion your energy across the whole of your cycle, rather than expending it all in one area.
In fact, even the science supports conserving your energy through not standing on your pedals - a recent study found that your heart rate beats 6% faster if you stand on the pedals compared to if you were sitting.
You want to stabilise your power and not exert too much effort early on, as this can result in exhaustion and overtraining (read more on the dangers of overtraining in OriGym’s comprehensive guide to calisthenics training). Maintaining a steady pace throughout helps you maintain your cycling uphill technique and not lose form.
Pacing is one of the key cycling uphill tips to focus on when climbing uphill. If you plan ahead, you’ll know which parts of your route will be the toughest, so you can pace yourself accordingly. If you know what to expect, you can mentally prepare for when you need to give a little extra.
You don’t want to attack the foot of the climb full throttle and leave nothing in the tank later on. When learning how to cycle uphill properly, pacing is a key element to success.
#4 - Make Sure You’re in the Right Gear
Many people ask about what gear to use when cycling uphill, but truthfully there is no correct answer. You will find out what gear best suits you the more you cycle uphill. It also depends on the type of bike you are riding, the length of your journey, your cycling uphill technique, and the steepness of the hill.
Sadly, there is no best gear for cycling uphill. But it is important to know how to properly change gears throughout your climb. You should have a bike with a lot of gears when cycling uphill.
One key thing to keep in mind when uphill cycling is “anticipation” - it should form the basis of your mindset when it comes to gearing, and it’s a term that’s associated with many other cycling uphill tips we’ll be looking at.
You don’t want to change into a gear too late, as it might become impossible the steeper you go. You need to anticipate when a steep gradient is approaching, lower your gear and spin your pedals at a higher rhythm. Your gear shifts should be smooth and not affect your momentum too much.
Maintaining momentum is often a key part of all exercise, and stretching properly can help you sustain that - explore more in OriGym’s comprehensive guide to the best stretches for runners.
A trick to not falter on your journey is to be in a lower gear than what you think you should be. That way, the gears will never fail you. You should avoid frequent gear changes in order to maintain your momentum.
#5 - Speed Up Your Cadence
We just touched on this when advising you what gear you should be in, but this should be its own cycling uphill tip as it is incredibly important.
You shouldn’t be in a high gear; this will slow down your cadence, and exhaust your fast twitch muscle fibres. You should be in a lower gear, but cycling at a higher cadence.
Once you do this you will be using your slow twitch muscle fibres, which are responsible for endurance – an integral part of cycling uphill. We would suggest maintaining a rate of 90 rpm, as this is often considered the normal speed of cadence, but it is always best to just cycle at the pace that is comfortable for you.
Fast twitch muscle fibres fatigue quickly, even when using electrolyte drinks to augment your movements. So, by using a higher cadence at a lower gear, you will be able to cycle up hills for longer.
Don’t let the gradient dictate the rate at which you push your pedals. Maintain a high cadence at a comfortable gear in order to experience success when it comes to uphill cycling.
In fact, research shows that well-trained cyclists opt for high pedalling frequencies and lower gears to increase efficiency and ensure that they maintain a steady momentum throughout their cycle uphill.
#6 - Relax and Breathe
One of the biggest tips on cycling up hills to take note of is to breathe. It may sound simple, but when riders are caught up in the adrenaline of a climb, they can easily forget how to breathe.
If you breathe too quickly, you’ll become tense, and speed up your heart rate too much. Then if your heart is beating too fast, the brain will automatically tell your body to slow down – this is something you’d want to avoid.
To avoid this, you should breathe deeply with your back straight and chest open to deliver fresh oxygenated blood to your legs and maximum airflow into your lungs. This breathing method is often recommended as part of improving running technique, too.
The more you control your breathing, the calmer your mind will be and the less you will panic. Loosen your grip on the bike’s handlebars and release all the unnecessary tension from your shoulders.
Try to occasionally give some muscles a rest; you don’t want to overuse some muscles when you are not using other muscles at all. If you are using your back too much, focus more on using your quads and glutes. Maybe even use your lower leg muscles by pointing out your toes.
You want your heart to rise as slowly as possible, and you can do this by not overworking your muscles, and controlling your breathing with some of the techniques we’ve examined.
#7 - Stay Positive
This is a tip that ties into the previous point, because in order to relax and not panic, you need to stay positive. Breathe deeply, and aim to push all of your negative thoughts to the back. Negative thoughts can often slow you down, but positive thoughts help you persevere.
That’s often the principle behind motivation - explore more in OriGym’s complete overview of achieving running motivation.
If you are wondering how to make climbing uphill easier, then being positive is the main rule to remember. Your morale is bound to sink as the climb gets steeper and your muscles start to ache, but as long as you can reset your brain into a positive frame of mind, you won’t fail.
Don’t think about how long you have got left, think about how much ground you have already covered. Focusing on your accomplishments so far is often a great way to remind yourself that you’ve done so much, and that you can still achieve even more.
A possible method to staying positive could be by splitting the climb into segments. Spot a road sign or tree in the distance and use that as a marker on your journey. Then once you have passed that marker you have made a mini-achievement. After that, strive to hit your next personal target.
Use what you can to help to push you through any negative barriers you might encounter while cycling uphill, especially as it can be a difficult pursuit.
#8 - Always Avoid the Steepest Apex
To maintain a constant speed and the best rhythm possible, it’s crucial that you try to avoid the steepest apex, and take a wider line around corners.
When uphill cycling, you want to reduce the gradient of the hill as much as you possibly can by going wide round corners, and avoiding the apex.
Many riders will often make the mistake of thinking that the shortest route is always the quickest – that simply isn’t the case for the majority of the time, especially when uphill cycling.
If you ride through the apex, you will break your rhythm and will have to pedal much harder, whereas finding a much smoother or easier route that skirts around the apex can allow you to expend less energy, and therefore continue onwards.
Explore more on fuelling your body with OriGym’s list of the best foods for energy.
You should always maintain your momentum where possible. The best way to do this is by sticking to the same gradient wherever you can, maintaining your speed, and keeping in the same gear. Going through a steep apex won’t let you do this.
You need to really consider your cycling uphill technique. You want to stay seated for the majority of your journey in order to preserve power and pace properly. But the more you try to battle through the steepest apex, the more you will have to get out of your seat, meaning the more you will tire.
#9 - Fuel and Re-Energise
As we’ve already explored, uphill cycling requires a lot of effort. It challenges your muscle fibres, makes you sweat, and burns a whole lot of energy. You always want to have energy to spare, and the best way to do this is by consuming the right amount of food and liquid.
Make sure you give yourself a shot of fuel at the base before you start your climb - we’d suggest one of the best energy bars to ensure you’ve got reserves to keep you going. This will give your mind and body a good energy boost.
However, as you may expect, this won’t be enough for the whole climb. You need to take advantage of flats and downhills to re-fuel, so you are re-energised for your next ascent. This can be something as simple as taking a short drink of water, or applying a specific running gel.
Knowing when to eat and drink when cycling uphill is linked to pacing. You don’t want to overdo it and feel too full, but you also don’t want to underdo it and not have enough energy to push yourself over the line.
As you cycle uphill, your body burns through kinetic energy, chemical energy, mechanical energy and heat energy whilst cycling uphill. So, your energy storage will be depleted if you don’t constantly drip-feed yourself, which is another reason why it’s vitally important to learn your route, and find the ideal spots to stop and refuel.
#10 - Stay Light
Staying light is one of those cycling uphill tips that people tend to interpret in different ways, and can often revolve around your budget, and your desire to continue progressing in uphill cycling. While losing body fat can make you lighter and make you go faster, it doesn’t have to be your body weight that has to drop, especially on a particularly difficult climb.
You can easily go faster and make your cycle uphill easier by reducing weight elsewhere. It’s incredibly important that you become ruthless when it comes to clothing and resources you carry. Even the weight of the bike you use can make a really big difference.
You should always avoid wearing baggy or flappy clothes because they are not aerodynamic at all and add massively to the weight you are carrying. This can make all the difference, especially if you’re undertaking a difficult climb, or are starting to take uphill cycling much more seriously.
We’d suggest opting for cycling-specific clothing - finding the right pair of leggings and breathable tops is an absolute must, as well as having a comfortable cycling jacket for winter riding.
You could also possibly think about the amount of liquid you are bearing. Of course, you don’t want to get dehydrated or leave yourself stranded with little supplies, but some riders overdo it and carry an unnecessary amount of weight. Find the right balance between fuelling your body, and not carrying excess weight.
#11 - Spend Time Practicing
While this may seem a self-explanatory point, it is crucially important toi practice, and keep practicing, even if you feel as though you’ve mastered what you’re doing. You can’t expect to get better at cycling up hills if you don’t practice cycling up them.
Get a feel for what suits you and what doesn’t when cycling uphill. Practicing can help you discover exactly what gear to be in, what cycling uphill technique to use, how much food and water you will need, how much weight you can manage, and what cycling gear works best for you.
You can also try different hills, or different terrain types to help you establish what’s right for you and your uphill cycling journey. You’ll be able to quickly establish your limits, and learn how to properly pace yourself. The more hills you climb, the better you will get at them. Learn your rhythm and gradually increase your speed.
This is one of those cycling uphill tips that doesn’t need much of an explanation. Just go out and practice, whether that’s your technique or your riding style, and begin to learn your limits, as well as what you can truly achieve.
#12 - Repeat Climbs
While this cycling uphill tip is similar to our previous tip, we feel it warrants its own section, especially as it can make the difference between succeeding and failing on a particularly difficult climb.
Now, although we want you to practice cycling up hills in order to improve and feel your way into knowing what suits you, it is equally important to repeat the same hills that you have climbed in order to notice your improvement.
There’s a multitude of reasons for this, but perhaps the main one is that it will act as great motivation for you when climbing the hill, as you will desperately want to beat your time. Setting yourself SMART goals in relation to this climb can revolutionise the way you view your uphill cycling journey, and offer motivation, especially when you’re struggling.
Using the same ascents multiple times can also act as a great confidence booster for you when tackling those harder hills that may, at first, seem out of reach. It’ll allow you to visualise your improvement rather than just feeling it - you will have physical evidence of what you have achieved and this can help you progress in the future.
If you really want to progress to the next level of uphill cycling, though, we’d suggest investing in wearable technology that can allow you to track your progress, your data, distances, and all the vital information you need to know.
We’ve compiled a list of the best heart rate trackers that can help to transform the way you view your vital signs.
#13 - Consider a Power Meter
This last cycling uphill tip is more of an option rather than a necessity, especially as it involves purchasing an extra piece of equipment. Adding a power meter to your bike can quickly turn you from an amateur into an expert at uphill cycling.
A power meter is simply a device that measures your cycling power. It multiplies your force (how hard you push the pedal) by your velocity (how fast you turn the cranks), to find out your overall cycling power. You’ll then have the information displayed in front of you, shown as wattage, and it will tell you when you are increasing and decreasing your power.
This is something you may have already seen, as many stationary exercise bikes will have technology that shows these statistics. Other gym machines (such as rowing machines) will also display this information.
In uphill cycling, though, a power meter can seriously help with pacing as you can regulate how much effort you put in throughout your cycle uphill.
When you repeat climbs, you can possibly challenge yourself to increase your power, or just make sure you stay at the same power. A power meter will display your strengths and weaknesses, informing you of what you need to improve and what you should carry on doing. The best thing about a power meter is that it measures effort rather than speed.
Enjoying this article so far? Here’s 3 more we think you’ll enjoy:
- 13 Best Running Apps For Beginners
- Resistance Training: Benefits, Risks & Tips
- Am I Too Old to Become a Personal Trainer?
Benefits of Cycling Uphill
#1 - Improves Cardiovascular Fitness
There are many benefits of cycling uphill, but perhaps one of the main ones is that it seriously improves your cardiovascular fitness. It might be self-explanatory, but the more cardio you do, the better your cardiovascular fitness will be.
Uphill cycling is a particularly intense form of cardiovascular exercise, and incorporating it regularly into your schedule can significantly improve your overall cardiovascular performance. Not only that, but it helps to reduce the risk of illnesses and disease related to a more sedentary lifestyle
Cycling up hills will reduce the risk of obtaining cardiovascular disease. If you cycle uphill rather than leisurely cycling on a flat surface, you can lower your blood pressure, and positively affect your heart.
Cycling uphill uses almost every muscle in the human body, but arguably most importantly it offers a significant workout for the heart. Uphill cycling reduces strain put on the heart, which in turn reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Uphill cycling will also increase the presence of good cholesterol in the body, which will transport fat away from the arteries, lowering the risk of heart disease.
#2 - Reduces Stress Levels
For many cyclists, uphill cycling is a form of enjoyment, and a way of exercising that not only challenges the body, but offers a release for the mind, too. You’re able to switch off from the stresses of everyday life, and absorb yourself in the beauty of your surroundings, especially on a climb.
In fact, exercise in general is incredibly beneficial for our mental health - explore more in OriGym’s complete report into the mental health benefits of running.
Multiple different endorphins get released when exercising, making you feel happy and stress-free, and this is compounded when we exercise outdoors.. You can take in the fresh air around you and forget about what was happening in your life at the base of the hill.
The freedom of cycling gives you the opportunity to be mindful. As well as releasing stress, cycling uphill gives you time to think, particularly if you’re completing a difficult ascent. It is just you and the bike tackling a hill together. You can really find yourself whilst uphill cycling.
There may also be a very scenic view when you get to the top that will be worth the tough slog. We’d perhaps suggest taking a small camera, or using your smartphone to take pictures at the top of your climb to both enjoy the natural scenery, but also commemorate the achievement of climbing the hill in the first place.
#3 - Burns Fat and Calories
A common question many people ask is ‘does cycling uphill burn more calories than cycling on flat terrain?’. From our research, we found that the answer is a resounding “yes”. You’ll be exerting much more energy by powering your bike uphill, and therefore be burning more fat.
The form of resistance exercise you’ll undergo when cycling uphill means your body has to push twice as hard in order to achieve what it normally would on flat, or more even, terrain.
In fact, a recent scientific study discovered that you burn almost 3 times as many calories cycling uphill than you would on a flat surface.
But how many calories are burned cycling uphill, exactly? Sadly, there is no definitive answer to this part of the question as it is entirely dependent on multiple different factors, including how much you weigh, how long you cycle for, what speed you cycle at, and at what gradient you are travelling up.
However, the main point to take away is that the calories burned cycling uphill is much more than what you would burn cycling or running for the same amount of time, meaning that uphill cycling offers a much more intensive form of exercise, and one that can revolutionize the way we view weight loss.
Cycling uphill also dramatically boosts your metabolic rate, so you will continue to burn calories for a while after you have stopped cycling. Read more on metabolism boosting foods in OriGym’s extensive guide
#4 - Strengthens Muscles
Cycling uphill is a full body workout, as it strengthens your legs, upper body, and core. Uphill cycling physically challenges your muscles to undergo an intense workout as you push on and fight up the climb.
Your legs will experience hypertrophy, enlarging individual muscle cells, as well as building muscle over time as your muscle fibres tear and repair, making them even stronger.
Whilst cycling up hills seated, you engage your quads, glutes and calves more than you would if you were cycling on flat terrain. If you make a habit of cycling uphill, your legs will become very powerful and muscular, whereas if you only cycle on roads, your legs will stay thin and wiry, as they don’t exert as much effort.
Your upper body will become stronger the more you cycle up hills. If you compare a road cyclist’s upper body to that of a mountain biker, there is a huge difference. Road cyclists are thin, and mountain bikers are muscular. You engage your arms, hands, wrists and shoulders as you push your weight forward.
Your core will also be engaged (click here to read our ultimate guide to engaging the core).
Your abs, back and sides will strengthen with each climb. You need a strong core to act as a solid platform for your legs to work from, and provide yourself with a stable base for riding.
Although strenuous, cycling uphill has a low impact on your muscles, which means you are much less likely to experience an injury cycling uphill than if you were running on flat terrain.
#5 - Builds Stamina
Another one of the many benefits of cycling uphill is that it helps to build up your stamina, providing you with more energy and ability to complete further uphill cycling ventures, and in life in general. You’ll be able to accomplish more than you have before, thanks to the boost that uphill cycling gives to your stamina
The more often you cycle uphill, the more exercise you will be able to do before you tire. Whilst cycling uphill, there is never a point where you can sit back and take it easy. This will improve your stamina as your body is constantly demanding more of you, and requires you to keep exerting yourself in order to keep climbing.
You will build your endurance as your body will increase its limitations, and therefore be able to do more before reaching your limits.
You can also improve your overall efficiency and effectiveness when cycling uphill. This measures your work rate will improve, especially when compared to your energy expenditure. You will notice your stamina building when you are able to last for longer whilst putting in the same amount of effort you usually do.
The more you continuously spin the pedals, the more your stamina will increase. Each hill you cycle up will get easier, you’ll be able to cycle for longer, and go even faster.
#6 - Improves Mental State
Improving your mental state often goes hand-in-hand with the idea of staying positive when cycling up hills. It is great if you can approach a hard climb with a positive mentality, but cycling uphill has actually been proven to improve your mind frame.
As mentioned earlier in our benefits of uphill cycling, cycling uphill releases a huge amount of endorphins, which in turn make you feel happier, and much more positive. This release of endorphins is often compared to a sense of euphoria, or a “runner’s high”, where we feel a sense of relief and accomplishment through our exercise achievements.
Explore more on the phenomenon of “runner’s high” with OriGym’s article on the benefits of running.
Each time you reach the summit of a hill, it makes you more confident in defeating the next one, and you feel a sense of pride that you’ve managed to overcome something that may have seemed impossible at first.
The mental benefits of cycling uphill goes beyond that, though. It’s been discovered that cycling uphill boosts blood flow which brings an increased flow of oxygen to the brain, causing receptors to fire and regenerate. Cycling uphill is as much mental training as it is physical. There aren’t many better places to practice mental positivity than on a tough climb.
Risks of Cycling Uphill
#1 - Can Cause Injury
As with any sport, a big risk of cycling up hills is causing an injury to yourself. Being in the wrong gear and using the wrong cadence can lead to injury, especially when you’re performing a particularly difficult or strenuous climb.
The main cause of injury cycling uphill is when cyclists continue in a high gear, and refuse to (or forget to) switch to a lower one. They try to go too fast, and wear out their muscle fibres much more quickly than they otherwise would have done. It is best to climb up a hill in a low gear but at a higher cadence in order to prevent injury.
If you are only travelling a short distance, then being in a high gear will be fine. But if you are cycling up a big hill, you are likely to damage your muscles and tendons if you don’t lower your gear.
To decrease the chances of picking up an injury, you could stretch before you start riding. Warm up your joints and muscles by jogging on the spot, then stretch out your glutes, quads, hamstrings, back, and arms to ensure your body is ready for an intense workout.
This is often referred to as dynamic stretching, as it mirrors some of the poses or movements you’ll be completing as part of your uphill cycling adventure. These can be hugely beneficial, and make all the difference ahead of a difficult ride.
#2 - Not Properly Pacing Yourself
Pacing yourself is one of the key tips for uphill cycling, and one that we would strongly advise you take heed of, especially as there can be costly consequences if you forget to pace yourself properly over the course of your ride.
If you go too hard over the opening few miles or even metres, it is likely you will grind to a complete halt halfway through or earlier, simply because your body cannot maintain that same pace.
It is absolutely crucial that you’re completely aware of your limits and how much you’re able to achieve (which is why we strongly recommend regularly practicing), and apportion your energy for when it is needed.
If you power through the first leg (especially if you are unaware of the length of the climb or the steepness of the gradient), you will more than likely have to walk the rest of the way up, because it just won’t be possible for your body to work any harder.
Of course, pacing yourself is a key component of all exercise, especially difficult routines or movements, and understanding how your body needs rest is vital. Learn more in OriGym’s comprehensive exploration of the importance of rest days, and how many you need.
#3 - Affected By The Weather
One of the main questions you might have, especially when it comes to uphill cycling, is “why is cycling uphill so hard?”. It’s an understandable question, especially as cycling uphill can be a difficult pursuit. Unfortunately, there is no single answer, but the weather can play a pivotal role in how difficult uphill cycling is.
There are many aspects of cycling uphill that are tricky, but they are usually things that you can control and can work on, especially when you follow some of the tips we’ve outlined above. But sometimes you can just get unlucky, and find yourself out on the hills on a particularly challenging day.
Wind is arguably the most important factor when it comes to cycling up hills, especially as a strong headwind can make an easier ascent into a much more challenging climb, especially if you don’t follow our advice and stand on your pedals. You will have to pedal even harder and keep as low as you can in order to make yourself as aerodynamic as possible.
This is particularly important when cycling in the winter - learn more in our guide to winter cycling, and how you can best prepare for it.
Rain is also dangerous when you cycle uphill. Your wheels can lose traction, and you can easily lose speed and momentum. Staying seated can reduce wheelspin, but it can become almost impossible to climb in the rain if the gradient gets too steep.
#4 - Risk Overeating Or Eating Incorrectly
While this may seem counterintuitive, especially as we advised earlier that you should make sure to refuel your body regularly, it’s important to ensure that you’re fuelling it correctly, and not overeating, as this can be hugely detrimental to your uphill cycling.
The biggest problem some riders face is that they have the misconception that, if they were to eat a large meal just before riding, it will function in the same way as continuously snacking on your climb.
Sadly, this is simply not the case. Eating too much before a ride can give you a real sense of discomfort, making you heavier and feel ill. It can also lead to stomach cramps and nausea, which pose distractions when you’re cycling uphill. There is nothing worse when you are suffering from digestive problems whilst you are trying to conquer a steep gradient.
Overeating before or whilst cycling uphill will make you much slower, and you won’t enjoy the ascent at all. You should drip-feed yourself to constantly re-energise your body when you are running low on fuel.
This can be done with small snacks throughout the ride, and providing yourself with an extra kick of energy by drinking a natural energy drink shortly before your ride.
How to Start Cycling Uphill
#1 - Improve Your Overall Fitness
Cycling uphill demands a lot from your body, and some people just aren’t ready for it. The lighter you are, and the stronger you feel, the easier you will ultimately find uphill cycling.
If you are serious about cycling up hills and know you are not in the best of shape, our advice would be to begin becoming a little more active. Maybe start cycling on flat terrain for a few weeks, then when you feel confident, steadily progress from low to high gradient hills.
You can also establish your own strict exercise regime and diet plan - we’ve outlined exactly how to do this in our report on becoming your own personal trainer.
However, if you believe you are fit enough already, or are an experienced cyclist, then feel free to dive right into uphill cycling. If you work out a lot already, there is no need to do more exercise on top of that.
To feel a little bit more physically prepared for the climb, core strength exercises can really help a lot. They will strengthen your upper back muscles and abs to keep you more steady on your bike, as well as providing you with a comfortable base for your legs to work hard at pedalling.
#2 - Plan and Prepare
This is arguably one of the most important points when it comes to uphill cycling, and one that bears repeating. It is a great point to keep in mind if you are only just thinking about starting to cycle uphill, or you’re not confident in your riding abilities.
Planning your journey is absolutely crucial, especially as cycling uphill can take its toll on your body, and being unprepared can lead to soreness, unnecessary injury, and a lack of motivation for the future.
Take note of the length, the gradient, the maximum gradient and how long your journey will take. All of these factors make a huge difference to what you need to bring, and what you’d be best wearing. If you know all this information, you will be able to pace yourself accordingly, know when to re-fuel, and can anticipate when you will need to change gear.
Good preparation can make all the difference when it comes to uphill cycling, and we’d also strongly advise taking a GPS with you so you don’t get lost, as well as more supplies than what you would on future rides (packing your best running water bottle full to brim, or bringing additional snacks, for instance).
All of these additional precautions can make all the difference when you’re on a particularly difficult climb, or you’re unsure about where you’ll be riding.
#3 - Choose The Right Clothing And Equipment
Uphill cycling can be hard for even the most prepared and fittest of people, but if you are not wearing the right clothing and not using the right equipment, it becomes almost impossible.
We’d always suggest staying as light as possible, and this is incredibly important when it comes to what you wear. Wear the most aerodynamic clothing you can find - skin tight if manageable, but figure-hugging clothing makes all the difference when it comes to uphill cycling.
Purchasing a pair of cycling shorts or leggings is a great place to start, but if you are not looking to spend too much, or you simply don’t have the budget, only buy within your means. It will make a massive difference to the ease of your ride, and ultimately your success with uphill cycling.
However, if you are willing to spend a bit of money, purchasing a lighter bike with easier gears would be very beneficial to your cause. Sunglasses can also make a huge, huge difference, especially if you’re riding in the sunshine. Wearing sunglasses will not only block out the sun peeking through the trees, but will also mask any pain you show on your face.
We’ve put together a selection of the best sports sunglasses, with options to suit every budget.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is The Best Way To Descend After Cycling Uphill?
You are probably thinking being told how to cycle uphill is all well and good, but how do you cycle downhill? You will have to descend after you’ve climbed, so it’s vitally important to know how to do so safely and effectively.
We would always say that the trick is to stay calm. Try to let all of the tension you may be feeling go. The more you panic, the more at risk you are of falling off your bike. Cycling downhill is a chance to relax your body, but not your brain. You should always stay alert, keeping the bicycle steady and the speed regulated.
The same is true of running downhill - explore more in OriGym’s thorough guide to the tips and tricks of downhill running.
Many riders see the descent as a reward for all the hard work they have put in cycling uphill, so try and enjoy it. But stay in control of the bike, don’t let it control you. The more practice you have cycling downhill, the more at ease you will feel. Just remember to never take it for granted.
How Do You Cycle Uphill In Groups?
If you are a social cyclist, want to bike as a family, or are interested in cycling up hills competitively, you may be wondering if cycling uphill in groups is any different to cycling uphill on your own.
You should approach it differently. Group riding is a skill that comes to you naturally as you practice more. Riding in a group can give you a psychological boost because you will always want to keep up with the person ahead of you. Then again, the person in front could slow you down and affect your momentum if you are a better uphill cyclist than them. You want to learn from the rider in front of you to help you judge the terrain and upcoming gradient.
Click here to find out more about the benefits of exercising as a group, and how it can affect your performance positively.
If you are not comfortable in a group, you can waste nervous energy, making the ride more difficult than what it needs to be. Make sure to ride with people you know are the same ability level as you, so you can ride at your own pace and are not pressured to go slower or faster.
You need to ride with cyclists who are going to improve at the same pace as you too, because it will only hold you back on your uphill cycling progression if you are cycling at a slower speed than what you know you can go.
Before You Go!
Our guide aimed to provide you with everything you need to know about uphill cycling safely, effectively, and efficiently. Whether you’re a beginner when it comes to cycling uphill, or you consider yourself an expert on hill cycling, our tips and tricks offer advice to even the most experienced cyclists.
Cycling uphill can, at first, be a daunting prospect, but understanding the tips we’ve laid out in this article will provide you with everything you need to get started as safely as possible. But if you’re already supremely confident in all things cardio and cycling, then perhaps a career in fitness could be your calling.
OriGym’s internationally accredited personal training courses offer the ultimate in service and value for money, with 7 days a week expert support, free examination resits, a wealth of readily available resources, and a guaranteed post-course interview at a range of national gyms.
Interested? Click here to download our FREE prospectus, and explore more of what we offer here at OriGym.
Written by Professional S & C Coaches
Download Your FREE 16 Week Home Strength Training Programme
Written by Professional S & C Coaches
- Fonda, B., & Šarabon, N. (2012). Biomechanics and energetics of uphill cycling.
- Keytel LR, Goedecke JH, Noakes TD, Hiiloskorpi H, Laukkanen R, van der Merwe L, Lambert EV. Prediction of energy expenditure from heart rate monitoring during submaximal exercise. J Sports Sci. 2005 Mar;23(3):289-97. doi: 10.1080/02640410470001730089. PMID: 15966347.