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Did you ever have a question, but were too afraid to ask it?

There are so many things that I wish I knew earlier, or asked about sooner.  

This blog aims to help you (and me) find the answers to those questions; to make sense of everything to do with people, sport and performance.  


If you have a topic or question, please get in touch.

I can't promise a definitive answer, but I might be able to help you get closer to it.

Deena, founder of drivetrain


TL:DR Push those pedals (and embrace the pain)

Power = force x cadence

The previous blog focused on cadence. This blog is all about FORCE. In simple terms, force is how hard you push the pedals. This is a matter for your muscles.

Generally speaking, we have two types of muscle fibres:

(1) ‘slow twitch’ muscle fibres which can go all day but aren't always so good at pushing a big load of force;

(2) ‘fast twitch’ muscle fibres which allow us to do powerful efforts up hills, but get fatigued more quickly.

Have you ever powered up a steep hill and then died a death after initially flying up it? This is where it's not just about strength, but about strength that endures.

As the road rises, ultimately you need stronger legs. Full stop. For any given weight (you, plus bike, plus snacks!) you need stronger muscles, both fast and slow twitch.

What training can I do to develop leg strength for climbing?

(1) Off The Bike Strength Training

I HIGHLY RECCOMMEND off the bike strength training. Why?

(1) You can push greater loads

(2) You can develop your strength in greater ranges of motion (ROM)

(3) You can be more targeted in your training

There are two conditioning principles to focus on when you hit the gym:

(1) Your legs need to tolerate higher absolute loads (i.e. increase strength)

(2) Your legs need to tolerate higher load for longer periods of time (i.e. develop endurance)

In simple terms, if you want to continually push the pedals for a long time and actually get somewhere, then your legs need to be used to performing that task.

(2) On The Bike Strength Training

A fantastic way to develop leg strength is to perform over-geared efforts ideally on a hill.

Over-geared hill repeats require a significantly lower cadence than usual, such as 50 RPM, to ensure that you are maximally stressing the muscular system. As a default, this work should be done seated, so that you are relying on your leg strength (rather than the weight of your body) to push the pedals.

(1) To develop pure strength, try shorter intervals with longer recovery periods between efforts.

(2) To develop strength endurance, try longer intervals with shorter recovery periods between efforts.

Remember to keep sight of the task at hand. If you want to push the pedals up hills at a certain speed, you need to go and practice it at that speed. Your legs need to be used to performing that task.

But hey! Coach! Why all this seated stuff? What about those pros who climb out of the saddle?

I hear you. Climbing seated isn't always the quickest way to get up the hill. But when it comes to training, staying seated is a very good way to build overall physical strength, not just your legs.

Ever seen someone climbing and they look like a wiggly worm? Hint: it's not a good idea.

Tune in to the next blog post in this series to find out more about position, posture, and how to make the most of your power.

Please get in touch if you have any questions, comments or want to find out more!

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In a previous blog on watts, I shared this equation:

Power = force x cadence*

*cadence means leg speed or ‘rotations per minute’ (RPM)

In simple terms, your power output is dynamic. It depends on two things working together:(1) the force you put into the pedals; and

(2) how fast you do it.

For the same power output, you can vary your cadence and force to suit the demands of the terrain.

When you start going uphill, gravity demands that you push your total weight up the hill (bike and bottles included!). As the force demand increases, the cadence slows. Often, people stay in their bigger gears. Sometimes it works; often times, it doesn’t.

(1) Spinning is winning

This is where cadence and gearing are your friends. The easier the gear, the more you can generate power with cadence rather than force.

Faced with a long hill, unsure of how easy or hard it is going to be, your safest bet is to pick a gear that allows you to spin (e.g. around 80 to 90 rpm).

If you can sustain a reasonable cadence at a higher gears, do it! But be warned: don’t make the rookie error of starting out in a big gear and then die a death halfway up the climb. If I had a Euro for every person I overtook as I got closer to the top of a climb, I’d be a very rich cyclist ;-)

(2) Know how to pace yourself

Pacing is key to any endurance effort. Pacing is powered by knowledge. You need to know two things:

(i) The terrain; and

(ii) Yourself!

(i) Know the Terrain

How many turns are there? Where does it kick up? Where does it flatten out? Are there any dead turns or unhelpful cambers? No one wants to get to a steep section in the wrong gear. Everyone wants to know when a relatively flat section coming up.** The internet has given you the power to reccie any hill you plan to climb; use it to your advantage!

**Why? It can offer a slim but vital moment of (relative) recovery. Find out more about this later in the series.

(ii) Know Yourself!

When it comes to getting up a hill, you need to know your limits. Why? Because that’s where you’ll likely be riding. Your power or heart rate training zones can serve as a guide, but they cannot replace the incredible complexity of your brain, body and sensations. As you get to know yourself and how your body responds, you can push your limits further.

But hey! Coach! Spinning didn't get me up that hill last Sunday!

I hear you. As the grade gets steeper, gravity becomes unforgiving, and cadence isn't going to cut it. Time for us to focus on the other half of the power equation – FORCE!

Tune in to the next blog post in this series to find out more about the force (and possibly some Star Wars jokes too...).

Please get in touch if you have any questions, comments or want to find out more!

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  • Deena Blacking

Updated: Feb 21, 2021

TL:DR Be clear about the goal and what’s holding you back.

So you want to get better at going up hills?

This blog series will break the task down into key components that you can train and improve. But first, you need to be clear about your goals.

Step One: Define the goal

Define what you want to be good at – what sort of hills climbing are we talking about?

Hill climb competitions? Lumpy road races? First trip to the Alps? Keeping up with your friends when the road starts to rise? Whatever it is, work it out. Write it down.

Step Two: Assess your ability

What’s the best hill climb you’ve done? How about the worst? Understand what you need to improve. What kind of hill climber are you right now, and what kind of hill climber do you want to be?

There’s a few common stories I hear when it comes to hill climbing…

(1) ‘I’m pretty strong on the flats, but I always seem to go backwards when the road rises.’

(2) 'I can power up a short hill, but I die a death after a minute or two.’

(3) ‘I can manage a steady grade but I struggle when it starts to get steep.

(4) ‘In races, I’m pretty good to start with, but hills really take it out of me after a while - if someone attacks at the top of a hill, I’m spent.’

If you’re rider number 1 and 3, maybe you need to focus on leg strength. If you’re rider number 2, it might be pacing and gear selection. For rider number 4, it sounds like you have a good foundation for hills, but your body’s ability to recycle lactate and recover during high intensity efforts could be letting you down.

Whatever your story is, work it out! Identify and name your weaknesses; if you don't, you won’t know what you’re trying to improve.

Step Three: Close the gap and improve your performance!

Over the coming weeks, I will publish blogs to help you to understand what you need to work on, including:

(1) cadence, gearing & pacing

(2) strength & force

(3) position & posture

Get in touch or leave a comment if you have any questions.

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