The Importance of Cycling Hills

Learn to love hills

Hill work is vital to every triathletes training prep. I often have athletes ask, “Is hill work necessary when my race is a flat course?” The answer is YES. Hill reps provide the greatest gains possible to any triathlete. They build strength, power and believe it or not….speed.

Hill reps are the session that no athlete ever wants to see in their training schedule. Expect me – who thrives on anything that requires repeats in preference to meandering a 2 hour run-of-the-mill suburban peddle. So for most triathletes these nasty and evil reps that either involve riding up hill at full throttle or grinding in seated big gear effort before riding back down and doing it all again is an excellent way to improve your speed, build strength and power on the bike. Being either high or hard intensity means your sessions don’t need to extend over an hour to get the benefits.

The length of repeats you should ride will vary depending upon your goals as a rider, as well as your level of experience. Allocate one ride to strength each week. Avoid using your long ride, instead choose a mid-week ride for your hill repeats. Find a suitable and gradual hill climb of at least 1km in length with a bike lane for safety if possible.

Get Faster – Get Stronger

To get faster on the bike you’ll need to work hard. Think heavy breathing, the burn sensation in your legs and the need for water once you’ve reach the top of every hill climb. To reach this point you must tap into your lactate threshold (LT) zone. Lactate threshold is the exercise intensity at which the blood concentration of lactate and/or lactic acid begins to exponentially increase. Your heart rate must be between 95 to 100% of what you can sustain for one hour and your power (FTP) must be between 90 to 100% of what you can sustain for an hour.

The purpose of hill repeats is accumulating time spent in the zones described. Accumulating time at this intensity forces your body to adapt so you can produce more power from the aerobic engine, which means you’ll become a more efficient climber and have the ability to push harder if the pace changes or elevation become more challenging.

To get stronger you’ll need to push big gears also with strong full pedal rotations alternating seated and out of saddle efforts. Big gear efforts mean you will work below your LT zone using your muscle rather than anaerobic system. Still expect to feel the burn after every hill climb though.

Things to Consider

  • Ride hill reps once per week (once a fortnight if new to riding)
  • Make your recoveries the down hill done as an easy spin
  • If hill reps are new to you, start with shorter reps to ensure you keep your effort high from start to finish
  • Always warm up and cool down
  • Replicate the efforts with your gears if you live somewhere flat

Beginner Session

30 min warm up (aerobic riding)

4 x 800m hill reps at LT effort getting up and out of the saddle when needed. Use the down hill as your recovery.

30 min cool down (aerobic riding)


Intermediate Session

30 min warm up (aerobic riding)

8 x 1km hill reps at LT effort getting up and out of the saddle when needed. Use the down hill as your recovery.

30 min cool down (aerobic riding)


Advanced Session

30 min warm up (aerobic riding)

12 x 1km reps alternating between EVENS (LT effort) ODDS (seated) big gear grinding. Use the down hill as your recovery.

30 min cool down (aerobic riding)

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