I have a few events coming up this year which have a fair amount of climbing (one is over a hundred miles with about 6500ft of ascent - that's an average of just over 1% for the entire distance). Obviously the best training is to get out and ride hills, again and again, but what recommendations are there for gym exercises to help?

I have access at work to a reasonably well equipped gym (a decent selection of weights machines and a small amount of free weight equipment). I haven't actually used it much - I used to do a sport which demanded a lot of time on the weights and since stopping regular training for that I've been enjoying not having to push any iron. So my imagination for weights is a little rusty.

So what would you suggest as good exercises in the gym to improve climbing capabilities?

  • 2
    There is some semi-related information in the answers to bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/463/… Not a duplicate or anything, but perhaps useful to someone looking at this question.
    – Mike Two
    Commented Jan 6, 2011 at 13:12
  • 2
    I can't imagine that weights for climbing would be much different than weight training for cycling in general. The main difference with hills boils down to technique, pacing and dealing with the mental challenges.
    – darkcanuck
    Commented Jan 6, 2011 at 18:48
  • 3
    May i suggest to find a hill around your neighborhood and try it every other day for 1 or 2 hours. Go up and come back down. Nothing in the gym will simulate wind resistance and imperfections of the road. The best way to tackle hills is to get out and ride them.
    – Sergei
    Commented Jan 13, 2011 at 17:52
  • @Sergei - that's a good idea, and I more or less do that anyway (although perhaps not as extreme as 2 hours :) I'm just trying to integrate more opportunities into my training, e.g. 30-40 minutes in the lunch break. (And if you'd answer rather than comment, I'd vote you up ...)
    – Unsliced
    Commented Jan 14, 2011 at 11:07
  • 1% grade is a hill climb? Aerodynamics and endurance will be far more relevant than anything under such conditions, hardly different from riding on the flat for 100 miles.
    – Phil Frost
    Commented Feb 13, 2020 at 23:39

3 Answers 3


In many ways this needs to be individualized. My experience has been in century type rides during the summers over the last 15 years. Most of which are in hilly and mountainous regions in Oregon and Washington. The suggestions following are what I have refined during that period based on experience and significant reading on the subject. Additionally, I work part time as a fitness trainer, and have helped others train for centuries.

During the off-season, which for me runs from November through February, my primary goals in the gym are strength, power and stability. After February, the gym work is minimal and training shifts to riding. I can't provide a complete description here, but here's a summary of my program related to climbing ability.

  1. Strength - The key exercises are lunges, squats and rack-pulls. These exercises utilize free weights, build strength and work the entire lower body. Additionally, since they're done with free weights, you achieve improvements in core stability and balance. In general, these are done with heavy weight, 5 reps and 3 or 4 sets. A hugely important aspect is correct form in order to avoid injury.
  2. Power - Power exercises are for developing explosive ability and speed. An example would be when you need an extra burst on a steep section of a hill. Also known as plyometrics. Here's a link to the basic idea: http://www.sport-fitness-advisor.com/plyometricexercises.html
  3. Stability - These exercises are designed to improve stability and utilize body weight and/or light weights. Split squat, medicine ball squat, single-leg Romanian deadlift, ball squat, crossover step-up, side-lying leg lifts. (FWIW - I have virtually eliminated an ITBS issue with this stability workout.) For each of these it's 3 sets, 10 reps.

Finally, during the course of the off-season I am cycling through these strength, power and stability workouts. For myself it's approximately 60% strength, 20% power, and 20% stability. How one cycles through these workouts is highly individualistic and is based on goals and one's fitness level. For example, in the last 3 weeks, I've done strength work on Monday and Friday with plyometrics on Wednesday. And next week will be 3 or 4 stability workouts.

The next planned century is in mid May. In March, I'll drop the strength and power training and move to almost exclusively to "on bike" training. The guide I follow pretty closely is The Time-Crunched Cyclist by Chris Carmichael and Jim Rutberg.

And just a note...the workout plan is not specifically and only for hill climbing. Through experience, I've found that the stronger I am going into the "season", the better I perform. Additionally, my other sports and daily living activities are improved as well.

An update...not to belabor The Time-Crunched Cyclist, but both I and riding partners have significantly improved our personal performance on hilly to mountainous century rides using Carmichael's methods. There are 3 types of intervals specific to climbing improvement. Not the full details, but a summary. Mix these into your training rides. Generally, not all three on the same day, and not on consecutive days; but these intervals once or twice a week should yield results.

  1. Climbing Repeats - Done a long, steady climb. Staying within 78 - 80% of Max Heart Rate for the climb with a cadence of 70 - 85 rpm. This increases climbing lactate threshold. (3X, 6 minutes each, 3 minute rest between)

  2. Hill Acceleration - On a long, moderate climb, pedal slowly until reaching the last 500 yards. Then gradually speed up so that you are at near max heart rate. Finish out of the saddle at max effort. (4X, 10 seconds, 3 minute rest between)

  3. Hill Sprint - Roll at a moderate speed in a moderate to light gear. As you hit the hill, jump out of the saddle and go hard. Try to hold top speed. Increases power for acceleration. (4X, 10 seconds, 3 minute rest between)


The whole training game is to shock the body just enough to have it adapt then rest one to 3 days to recover. My gym work starts October and more or less ends April. (I ride all year but do not hammer during these months-- just one 5-8 km sprint every ride) Weight lifting is to live thru a fall and repair the damage of strains.

-First month - 21 lifts of one st, 15 reps - just to get form down, tap into muscle memory - Second and third month - 10 to 12 lifts that tax multiple joints- hip machine 45 degree leg press chair, hamstrip machine, lat pull downs, free weight shoulder shrugs, weighted incline sit ups, back extensions -last months - core from hips calisthenics , knees to chest heavy 4 sets, 4-5 reps such as leg lifts, weighted incline sit ups, lat pull downs various rows, hip machine. I do not exercise the arms per sec as they sort of get strong just by extension of my knees to chest stuff.

I'm 69. My riding ability profile is better at sprinting and hills but average on endurance rides over 2 hours. I can accept less performance on longer rides cause the fun is speed and hills.


I'd go to the gym every two days or so and just do every exercise which included the legs, and for the back also.

Single sets with lots of reps on most (50) and more on one (leg press, 200 reps). Took me 2 hours to finish the circuit twice. Extremely intense, tiring, but satisfying.

It improved my sprinting and especially my climbing. This is not often recommended by trainers, but I'd say it's better than just aping the other gym attendants who have almost opposite goals (i.e. enlarging the amount of upper body muscle mass with the least amount of sweat).

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