How to improve your hill climb

News & Media

April 11, 2021


For many cyclists who are new to the sport, often the biggest challenge, both physically and mentally is conquering hill climbs. Much apprehension around climbing often involves a  fear of “will I be able to make it?” and “can I manage it?”

However, with the right type of training, gears and good technique, every cyclist can master climbing, including Mt Coot-tha.  Here are some tips to have you ascending the mountain with confidence.


As climbing requires both strength and fitness, it makes sense to address both elements in a training program. Overall, fitness is dependent on number of times per week you train, intensity of training and how long each session is. There is an adage that states, “you become what you train”, thus strength for climbing is developed by riding on hilly terrain.

For example, a program to build fitness and strength for a cyclist riding four days a week and training for the Great Brisbane Bike Ride may look like this:

  • Day One: Flat to undulating shorter ride with a few harder bursts of effort sprinkled in (intensity) (30-40km)
  • Day Two: Climbing/hilly workout, for example Mt Coottha front repeats (strength)  (30km)
  • Day Three: Low intensity flatter short or social ride (recovery)  (30-40km)
  • Day Four: Longer flat to undulating ride of moderate intensity (endurance) (80-100km)

Climbing Fitness/Technique/Gear Selection:

When incorporating climbing and hills into your program, start with smaller climbs to build confidence and use good technique. Gradually progress to longer and steeper climbs as your strength improves. To climb with good technique it’s important to consider the following tips.

  • Choose a small gear that allows you to “spin” your legs as much as possible, rather than strain your leg muscles. Typically, this will involve using your small chain ring at the front and larger cogs at the back.
  • Focus on shifting your bodyweight towards the back of the saddle and maintain an upright, yet relaxed posture with the upper body. Your shoulders and upper body should remain as relaxed as possible and you should engage your abdominals and gluteals to support your back. Position the hands on the tops of the handlebars and keep the elbows soft.
  • When you view a professional cyclist from the side, you’ll notice that their pedal stroke resembles a perfect circle. When you climb, imagine that you are drawing that perfect circle with the ball of your foot, lifting the knee and driving it forward at the top and using the hamstring muscles to pull the pedal up at the bottom of the stroke. If the climb is particularly steep, dropping the heels slightly at the bottom of the pedal stroke can assist.
  • Where possible, climb in a seated position, especially for longer efforts as it is more efficient and shares the load amongst several key muscles.
  • However, there may be some points where you need to climb out of the saddle. Position your hands on the hoods (near the levers) and shift down to one harder gear so that you have some resistance to push against. Again, the key is to keep the upper body relaxed and allow the bike to move from side to side underneath you. Continue to aim to pedal in smooth circles. To continue your climbing in a seated position, simply shift down to an easier gear and transition back into the saddle smoothly.

Finally, enjoy the process – and be sure to take a photo at the top of Mt Coot-tha when you’ve climbed the mountain to celebrate!