Cycling hill repeats are one of the best ways you can execute an interval workout.
Not only do steep gradients force you to push harder on the pedals, hill reps are also very specific to the demands of competition, where climbs often play a decisive role.
They’re an extremely efficient way to train too and offer huge benefits to both time-poor and time-rich cyclists alike.
So, with this type of workout being so important then, here are some simple steps you can take to improve the quality of your hill repeat sessions and ensure you don’t leave any fitness improvement on the table.
1: USE A TARGET RANGE
I’ve spoken in the past about using ranges when it comes to training objectives and metrics, but it bears repeating here.
Too many cyclists target a singular number for their intervals and subsequently find it difficult to pace their efforts correctly.
With such a specific target, it’s easy to fall short or go too hard, not to mention almost impossible to pace when power or heart rate are notoriously stochastic.
As an example, instead of setting 315 Watts or 180 BPM as your target for a set of intervals, try something like 300-330 Watts or 175-185 BPM as your target range. If you allow yourself that kind of margin, you’ll often find you pace your intervals very close to the singular number you would have set anyway.
2: NEGATIVE SPLITTING
The idea of a negative split, which is a concept borrowed from running, is to go faster in the second half of a session/race than in the first.
By trying to negative split your hill repeats workout, you’ll help ensure that you can complete the full set of repeats (and score more minutes at high intensities) and pace the sessions better, rather than going out too hard and falling short of completion.
Negative splitting also applies on a “per interval” basis too, where it often works well to start the interval off conservatively (i.e. at the lower end of the target range discussed above) and then increase the effort progressively as you go through the intervals.
Give it a try on your next session and keep this phrase in mind: Last one, fast one!
3: CHOOSE HILLS WITH VARYING GRADIENTS
The effectiveness of your cycling hill repeats can be improved by sometimes choosing climbs that offer varying gradients within a single repeat.
A suitable hill might start off steep, transition to a flatter section and then pitch up again towards the end.
What this will do is help train you to cope with changes to your pedalling style (like cadence, seated or standing pedalling etc) and breaks in your rhythm.
Again, it comes down to specificity and how closely some of your workouts reflect what happens in competition.
If you can teach yourself to keep the power on when the road or trail changes beneath you, you’ll be in a better position to capitalise in a race or event when fellow riders begin to struggle.
4: MAKE EACH REP DIFFERENT
Hill repeats are tough physically and mentally, and to get the most from them, you’ll often be forced to dig deep and push through some significant discomfort. You can help make them more bearable though by keeping things fresh and interesting.
One way to do this is to change up the design of each repetition in a set, i.e. riding the same hill, but in a slightly different way each time.
As an example, you might do the first interval at a constant intensity top to bottom, the second interval going hard for 30 seconds and easy for 30 seconds repetitively, and the third starting and ending the interval very hard with a more steady state effort in between.
There’s always more than one way to train a certain ability, so don’t feel you have to do the exact same interval over and over again.
5: MANIPULATE RECOVERY TIME
Finally, the recovery time you allow yourself between cycling hill repeats can have a big impact on the effectiveness of the workout as a whole.
Knowing how much recovery time to allow yourself between reps largely comes down to what your overall session goal is.
If you’re training to improve your absolute VO2Max or anaerobic power for instance, you’ll want to give yourself plenty of recovery time so that you can produce the necessary high power output on the next interval.
On the other hand, if you have a broader training goal, like trying to improve your ability to put out high power under large amounts of fatigue, it makes sense to reduce the amount of recovery you allow yourself.
Change up the recovery intervals you use in your hill repeat workouts to keep the sessions varied and challenging.
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If you’d like some personal guidance with your training or some advice with designing your own cycling hill repeats, don’t hesitate to get in touch via the contact form here.