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Learn how to become a better climber in 2 simple steps

Learning how to become a better climber is simple enough. But actually becoming a better climber, well that’s a different story. Read on to learn how to become a better climber in 2 simple steps and start demolishing those mountains!

Climbing doesn’t come easy

Whilst the pros (and some of our friends) make climbing look easy, it doesn’t come naturally even for many of them.

Sure, many pros are physiologically predisposed to climbing, but a lot of them have many thousands of hours and kilometres of climbing in their legs.

So for us amateurs, it’s really hard.

If you’re not naturally skinny (like a Basque mountain goat), you’re up for a lot of training.

Not months of training.

Years of training.

And with many of us having jobs, kids, commitments, getting great at climbing seems impossible.

Why being dropped on climbs sucks

I used to be a great climber but then got sick with a thyroid condition for a year (turns out Bonsoy caused it!).

Since then my climbing is a shadow of its former self. It absolutely burns a raging fire inside to see people ride away from me up a hill.

Here's me being dropped

Here's me being dropped

I hate it.

Chances are, you feel the same way.

There’s nothing worse – NOTHING – than being dropped on climbs. It’s crushing. I think it plays into our ego – “Dammnit! I am better than these guys! I train! This isn’t steep! I ate well. HOW DARE THEY?!”

As egotistical as it sounds, there is something delightful about being in the front selection on a climb in a race, or burning past people up a big climb like the Galibier, as they struggle up.

Why even worry about becoming a great climber

You’re probably reading this as you’re:
…off to France, Italy or somewhere awesome like that for a cycling holiday or
…you want to do Etape (or some other epic sportif) and need to do some training
…or just want to get better in the hills.

For those reasons, it makes total sense to seek out ways how to become a better climber.

Additionally, there’s something absolutely pure about riding in the mountains (especially the Grand Cols of France) and being able to enjoy the climb.

(For what it’s worth, I’d take being a better climber over being a better sprinter any day of the week. Sprint for show, climb for dough.)

There’s no point in spending a lot of money on a cycling adventure concentrating on the Etape, or mountains, and then suffering your guts out up the majestic Alpe D’Huez or Galibier. That’s just silly.

Learn how to become a better climber in 2 simple steps

Becoming a better climber consists of controlling two things:

  1. Your training
  2. Your weight

You and I both know there are almost no big heavy guys who can climb well. They’re all lean with just the right amount of muscle.

Whilst some are naturally born this way, many others acquire it (look at Bradley Wiggins! Track cyclist becomes uber-climber!).

“What about my bike?”

Whilst I love nothing more than encouraging completely unwarranted expensive bicycle purchases, the fact is, unless you’re riding a really, really heavy bike (10kg +), your bike has little effect.

Sure, riding a 7kg bike up a hill is easier than riding a 9kg bike uphill. And, if you absolutely are carrying minimal weight and have money to burn, go for it.

For the vast majority of people though, the most effective thing you can do is to lose weight and train for the hills.

Actually, I will say this: having the right gearing for the mountains makes a big difference (to fatigue) too. Swallow your pride and get some compacts!

Losing weight

By controlling your weight and shedding some spare kilograms, you’ll be really helping your training and attacking your climbing from both fronts.

Losing weight is not easy at all. Believe me, I know. It took me 2 years of hard work to lose 25kg.

Read more about the 7 Habits of Highly Successful Fitness Programs and Healthy Eating Myths (interview with a sports dietician and nutritionist).

If you’re interested, you can check out a simple, repeatable, easy-to-follow nutrition framework on the Nutrition Plan for Cyclists page.

Training

Can you imagine being unfit and having to haul your sorry bum up the Grand Cols of France? Hot weather, long distance, poor preparation.

You’ve spent thousands of dollars on this dream cycling trip and you’re not enjoying it.

Horrible.

There are seriously so many ways to skin a cat with training.

  • You can start informally and just ride a lot, and make sure you burn a load of calories (but not too many).
  • You can tag along with some groups and do some work on the front once you become competent.
  • You can get a coach and get a program written.

Most people who email me asking about getting in the right condition for their cycling holiday seem to fit into the first camp.

Whilst this is great for initial weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight, it’s not good training for events like Etape, or for the big mountains.

Becoming a good climber requires structured training combined with quality eating.

If you don’t have a training program, you could check out the VeloNomad Training for Etape guide or, sign up to the mailing list to be notified when the new VeloNomad training program launches. I’ll be launching a Training for Weight Loss and Training for Performance plan. A new program every week, in 3 month blocks.

Combine proper gearing, training, eating and mental strength

Whatever you do, you just need to combine the right eating with the right training.

Make sure you have the right gearing and develop some mental strength too.


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by Tim Marsh

Tim is an ex Melbournite now living near Byron Bay on 10 acres, happily growing mangos, avocados and lots of other stuff, with his wife Kate, son Arthur and adorable Golden Retriever, Whiskey (RIP our 1YO G/R Poppins :( ).

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