So you've finally brought your SoulCycle addiction outside and hopped on a real bike. And your first thought after "This is so awesome!" is "Dang, this is harder!" Yep, nothing compares to tackling real-life hills, and while reaching the top conjures up the most amazing feeling of accomplishment and power, the journey uphill can feel downright grueling. After a weekend cycling with some strong ladies on a Trek Bikes press trip, here are some expert tips to help those climbs feel easier.
Hand Placement Makes a Difference
On a road bike, your hands usually hold the sides of the handlebars where the brakes are. However, when faced with a longer and more challenging climb, Emily Bremer, the women's marketing manager from Trek Bikes says, "I always keep my hands very close to the middle of the handlebars, equidistant on either side of the stem." It helps maintain an upright posture to increase the amount of oxygen you can take in. If you fall into a more hunched position, it restricts the breath.
How to Breathe
And speaking of breath, just like you follow specific breathing patterns for swimming or yoga, Emily suggests, "finding a steady pace you can maintain for the duration of the climb." It not only helps you tackle the physical demands of pushing yourself uphill, but "focusing on breathing can help distract you from the mental battle fought against yourself during the climb," she says.
Keep Your Eye on the Prize
Where you look is personal choice. Some find inspiration gazing to the top of the hill, knowing that each push and pull of the pedals gets them closer to the end, and it makes how far they've come more tangible. But when a climb becomes so physically demanding and tiring, Emily says she tends to "look down and just in front of my front wheel when I'm at the hardest part of a climb." It allows you to focus on the rhythm of your feet and your breath.
The Legs Are Just Part of It
Of course your quads, hamstrings, and glutes are getting a lot of the action, but that's not the only part of the body working. Actually if you focus on the other muscles doing the work, it can take your attention off the fiery burning in your thighs. "Core strength becomes very important," and thinking about stabilizing your core can help you stand up, which can give your legs more power. Going clipless (the shoes that click into the pedals) will also help tremendously because it allows you to not only push down on the pedals but also to pull up. Being able to take a full pedal stroke gives you double the hill-crushing power! Also remember to keep your arms loose and not pull the front of the bike toward you as you pedal. It'll help maintain that forward momentum you need to get to the top.
What to Do Off the Bike
You've heard it before . . . if you want to get better at something, you've got to spend more time doing the activity. Add an extra ride to your week or lengthen your current rides by five or so miles. Emily says if you can't find time or the weather gets in the way of outdoor rides, take an indoor cycling class and practice your breathing there. Also, yoga is helpful, she says. "[It's] great cross-training for our elite athletes, as balance, coordination, and core strength all play pivotal roles in riding power in general." And sorry to say, the move you love to hate — squats — is key to cycling! Strength-training moves that focus on the lower body and core are a huge help, as well as other forms of cardio such as running and swimming. Emily is also a fan of CrossFit in the Winter months to build leg strength. So even if you're spending more time outside on two wheels, making time for other types of exercise is sure to make a difference the next time you're faced with a climb.
Photo: Trek Bicycle