Go Triathlete

Hill Training for Cycling and Running Fitness

Want to be a stronger and faster cyclist and/or runner? The answer is really quite simple, head for the hills. For whatever reason, hills have gotten a bad rap and are more commonly dreaded than embraced. Correct me if I'm wrong, but we, as endurance athletes, don't sign up for events because they're easy. We look for challenges – events that push us mentally and physically. Right?

If our goal is to conquer a new distance or event, it seems logical that our training leading up to the event should mimic the actual event. While we can find pancake flat courses, they surely aren't the most exciting to race time after time again. Consider the Tour de France. What do people want to see? The stages in the Alps and Pyrenees – the climbs on which champions are made. The same goes for triathlon. The hills make completing a course that much more rewarding, albeit, maybe slower.

When it comes to building leg strength, nothing quite compares to a hard session of climbing by foot or bike. For either discipline, climbing most closely resembles one of those StairMaster machines at the gym. You know, the ones that always seem to be available. Sure, you won't have a TV to distract you, but reaching an actual summit is always more satisfying than mindlessly staring at a screen or drowning out the noise of treadmills with your iPod. That's one of the mental benefits of running or riding hills, finding that extra little bit within yourself to get to the top.

Since cycling is inherently a low impact sport, climbing changes little, if anything, regarding this dynamic. As for running, a notoriously high impact sport, hills actually reduce the impact stress. When running uphill, your stride is shorter as your foot is essentially “caught” by the ground as you go up. Yes, you will feel quite a bit of fatigue while climbing or soreness later, but that's just a temporary nuisance of our pursuit to bettering our power to weight ratio (which is particularly useful for cycling). Running downhill on the other hand, can be precarious, in that over-striding is common, since your foot has further to fall compared to running on level ground.

Understanding how you feel when attacking hills is a great asset when it comes to strategizing your races or where you'll race for that matter. You may find that you prefer to take it easier on the climbs and hammer the descents. Or go full-bore on the way up and recover on the downhill. Whatever the case, knowing your climbing limitations will play to your advantage when deciding where you ought make your move in races.

Overall, hill workouts are just speed workouts in disguise.