Most people I ride with have noticed how slow I am on the climbs and they know to maintain a great distance behind me. But despite my slowness, I maintain a couple nicknames: “Diesel” and “Goat”. Jokes aside, the reason I’m able to climb up nearly any hill is technique.
First of all, I focus on my heart rate. I know my max, and I try to keep it 20 BPM lower than max at all times. Get a heart rate monitor, figure out your max, and then focus on keeping the heart rate down. Believe it or not, your mind has a tremendous amount of power over your body. It can help you or hurt you. When you’re stressed, it can increase your heart rate. When you’re relaxed, it decreases your heart rate.
Raw power in your muscles is called anaerobic power. It is essentially power without oxygen. And it is responsible for all your tough attacks up hills, around corners and sprints. In most people, this raw power is only good for a few seconds. But with training, you can extend this raw power much longer. How did I attain this raw power? I learned by swimming. In swimming you are without oxygen for a few strokes at a time.
You learn to increase your power and speed by taking fewer breaths between strokes. One-two-three-breathe. One-two-three-breathe. One-two-three-breathe. The same concept applies to pedal strokes. Count off: right foot down, left foot down, right foot up, left foot up, breathe. Actually most of the time you can repeat that cycle two or three times without a breath. The key is to allow your body to use all of its stored up energy and only engage the heart and lungs when you need it.
Another important technique to learn is balance. Many people cannot ride right behind me because I’m too slow for them. So they rush by, run out of juice, and then I pass them. Why? Because I have balance. I learned balance with years of skate boarding. But you can learn balance with a balance board and by focusing on your “track stand”. You’ve probably seen bikers at red lights standing up not moving on their bikes. That’s balance. And when you can track stand, you can move at any speed.
Don’t try this clipped in at first, but try track standing by riding your bike as slowly as possible on a standard three-foot sidewalk in a circle. Not only will this help your balance skills in climbing, but it will also help your with switch back turns.
Bottom line: remember to relax. It starts in the mind and flows through your body. Relax your finger tips, relax your elbows, relax your chest, relax your legs, and always remember to breath.