Uphill training – Improving uphill cycling performance

Cycling uphill is exhausting. However, with determination and a targeted training strategy, significant physical and mental progress can be achieved. In this article, we highlight the benefits of uphill cycling training, provide tips on how to successfully tackle climbs, and show you how to improve your performance. We also offer practical advice and specific exercises.

5 reasons to train uphill

Imagine tackling a winding uphill climb on your bike, feeling the fatigue as your calves burn and your breathing gets heavier. It’s a familiar situation for many cyclists: a mix of sensations between effort and reward, challenge and satisfaction. The effort is worth it, as the benefits are manifold:

  • Improvement in cardiovascular endurance: Tackling demanding climbs increases the demand for work from the heart and lungs to supply oxygen to the muscles in motion. This stimulates physiological adaptations that lead to improved cardiovascular capacity. Given the increased oxygen demand during exercise, it’s likely that VO2max (maximum oxygen uptake) will increase over time.
  • Increase in power and muscle strength: Riding uphill requires greater muscular effort to overcome the resistance of gravity and propel the bike upwards, which helps to strengthen the leg, gluteal and core muscles. This leads to greater available power during training sessions and competitions.
  • Increase in FTP: Training on steep inclines often means working at intensities near or above your FTP (Functional Threshold Power), which stimulates the physiological adaptation necessary to improve this power threshold.
  • Mental challenge: Tackling a climb is an opportunity to push one’s physical and mental limits: this psychological challenge with oneself can lead to greater resilience and determination.
  • Development of pedaling technique: Riding uphill requires precise and efficient pedaling technique. Tackling steep and irregular climbs helps cyclists perfect their technique by focusing on smooth power transfer and optimising cadence.

Tips to improve uphill performance

To successfully tackle uphill climbs, it’s important to adopt the right mindset and strategy. Improving your skills on climbs can be one of the most rewarding aspects of cycling, but it can also be frustrating: stopping halfway up a climb, gasping for air, while other cyclists pass you by, is never pleasant.

Here are some key points to keep in mind to optimize your uphill performance:

Improve FTP

Tackling steep climbs often requires increased effort from the anaerobic energy system. Increasing FTP is an effective way to improve uphill abilities. You can improve functional threshold power (the maximum intensity a cyclist can sustain for an hour) through specific interval training. For example, by performing 30-second sprints above 130% of your FTP.

Gear ratios

Choose gear ratios carefully based on the gradient, terrain, and physical capabilities. If the climb is short but steep, it’s advisable to shift to a higher gear on the rear cassette to maintain a consistent cadence and manage the necessary force. However, if the climb is long and steady, it’s preferable to shift the chain onto the smallest front chainring and the largest rear cog. Even professional cyclists opt for compact chainsets and wider rear cassettes during mountain stages, underscoring the importance of adapting equipment to course challenges.


In general, during climbs, it’s advisable to maintain a pedaling cadence between 70 and 90 rpm, although the optimal cadence may vary slightly depending on personal preferences and climb characteristics.


Is it better to sit in the saddle or ride standing up during the climb? This depends on the type of climb and personal preferences: generally, staying seated on the saddle is more efficient in less steep or long climbs, as it allows for better weight distribution and maintaining a consistent pedaling cadence. In contrast, standing on the pedals can be advantageous on steeper climbs or when extra effort is needed, as it allows using body weight as leverage to increase power. However, standing on the pedals requires more energy and can lead to increased muscle fatigue, so it’s advisable to alternate between the two positions during the climb based on needs and personal sensations.

Reduce weight

If you want to ride uphill faster, a lighter weight is obviously not a disadvantage. This applies to equipment (frame, bike, shoes, helmet, clothing, etc.), but also to body weight. However, simply losing weight is not enough: it’s crucial to have an adequate power-to-weight ratio, which is the power generated (measured in watts) divided by body weight (measured in kg). It’s important to be light enough to climb quickly but also strong enough to maintain consistent power on the pedals to tackle longer climbs. For more information, see our article “The Importance of Training with Power“.

Monitor data and develop a strategy

Avoid starting too fast or intense to prevent losing energy halfway up the climb. It is recommended to use tools such as a heart rate monitor or, even better, a power meter, which often also provides information on cadence. If you know your power values, you can calculate the sustainable effort over time and develop a suitable strategy for the climb. In addition, consulting a map on a bike computer can provide valuable information about the length and gradient of the climb.

Replenish glycogen reserves

15 minutes before starting the climb, give yourself an energy boost with an energy bar. Even a dose of caffeine can be beneficial. If you’re riding for more than an hour, you should consume about 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour.

Strength Training

Although for many cyclists, the thought of lifting weights in the gym isn’t as exciting as pedaling, strength training can significantly improve cycling strength and efficiency.

Exercises and workouts to hone uphill skills

  • Interval training on variable inclines: Series of repetitions on climbs with different gradients and intensities.
  • Constant speed climbs: Maintaining a constant speed on a continuous climb. This workout aims to improve the ability to sustain a consistent effort on long climbs, improving cardiovascular endurance and the ability to use fats as an energy source.
  • Low cadence intervals: Pedal for several minutes at a higher gear than usual. Repetitions can range from 5 to 20 minutes and from 45 to 65 rpm. These intervals increase the rotating force you can sustain over an extended period.
  • Threshold intervals: Maintain an effort level of around 85-95% of FTP for extended periods. You’ll train muscle endurance and the ability to maintain high power with less effort.
  • High-intensity interval training: To increase maximum FTP, it’s necessary to train above your anaerobic threshold. This type of training, characterized by short and intense sprints followed by recovery periods, stimulates physiological adaptation leading to an increased ability to sustain intense efforts over a longer period of time.


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