There's a 2.4km, fairly gentle hill near me which I want to get quite a bit faster on.

The traditional answer to my question is likely to be 'Go up the hill more often', but I also have a turbo trainer. I was wondering if it's more useful to do intense intervals on the turbo or just keep going up the hill on a regular basis? The hill is definitely more fun than turbo trainer but I want to get stronger and faster as fast as possible.

What's the answer here?

Some more background: I'm ~78Kg in weight, 6ft tall. My PR is 4:23 on this segment/climb. My first goal is to beat some guy I know who is 15s faster.. I think I can do this just by getting a decent run up and having a good day.. however that brings me on to the real challenge which is getting a lot faster! Ultimately I'd like to knock off 31s. Strava link: https://www.strava.com/segments/1525252/

enter image description here

I get out on my bike perhaps 2x or 3x a week for a 'proper' ride. Other than that I do 100km of commuting on a slower commuter bike. I'm 34yrs old and sometimes do some running and kettlebell exercises too. I dream of being massively powerful but due to time constraints I don't think that'll ever happen lol.

  • 9
    Stay off the beer and pies. Losing weight is often better way to get faster uphill.
    – alex
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 10:34
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    Definitely up the resistance on the turbo trainer to simulate the extra effort you'll need. Try and maintain your cadence too. Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 10:45
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    To clarify the question was more about whether I should spend more time on the turbo doing intervals or climbing the hill.. my hunch is that turbo session will probably help more..
    – John Hunt
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 12:25
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    I think that it doesn't matter whether you do it on the turbo or live, the main idea is to judge the length of the hill and choose the appropriate training. Short but steep? 2-minute power intervals are your friends. Long? Play with below - over LHT intervals. Please note, that this is true for road riding, for MTB technique plays it's role a lot too.
    – J-unior
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 13:17
  • 1
    Find longer steeper hills, do them often, come back to your climb and smash
    – gaurwraith
    Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 12:32

3 Answers 3


Unfortunately, there is a fairly straight forward reason why you actually need to ride hills in order to get faster at them: crank inertial load.

We have two main types of skeletal muscles. (Skeletal muscles are responsible for our locomotion and movements, cardiac and smooth muscles make up the other muscle types in our the body). The two main skeletal types are slow twitch which has slower contractile speed, lower force, but higher endurance and fast twitch which has a faster contractile speed, higher force, but lower endurance. Fast twitch can be further broken down into an additional 3 sub-types, which again vary from each other by contractile speeds and forces generated. Each person has a unique make-up of these skeletal muscle type which is controlled largely by genetics, but the relative strengths of each type can also be trained plus there is some evidence for inter-conversion of the fast twitch muscle types through training.

This gets us to hill climbing. The conditions experienced by your skeletal muscle when climbing is very different from riding on the flat. On the flat you are typically carrying a lot of momentum (kinetic energy). If you stop pedalling you will still be carrying a lot of speed and will not slow down much immediately after you stop. As such you have all this energy which helps to overcome the drag and rolling resistance. In order to accelerate you will need a quick burst of work which means you need to fire your muscles more quickly in order to perform sufficient work in a short enough time period. These conditions are more favourable to including more fast twitch fibers (although all fiber types will still be contributing). Conversely, when climbing you have less kinetic energy. If you stop pedalling you will slow down much quicker. These conditions are more favourable to longer contraction times, which in turn favours the use of slow twitch muscles over fast twitch.

This all has important consequences when looking at replicating riding conditions with indoor trainers. This quote from R Chung (who is a frequent contributor on bicycles.se) summarizes nicely why this is the case:

No turbo currently on the market can adequately replicate the forces you experience while climbing. Mostly, that's because hills vary in steepness, so the power and inertia vary, while most turbos (all mechanical turbos and many electronic turbos) have a fixed relationship between wheel speed and power, and all have fixed inertial load. Some electronically-controlled turbos can vary the relationship between wheel speed and power (typically, by something they might call "slope") but none vary the inertial load.

So when you're training on a turbo, forget about cadence, or climbing. You can't replicate it. What you can replicate is the range of power you need to produce. So just focus on that. If you have a power meter this is easier but if you don't just focus on wheel speed, even if the wheel speed isn't representative of the wheel speed you'll use while climbing.

Unfortunately, its not just "Turbo trainers" most trainers on the market cannot sufficient replicate the inertial loads experienced when climbing. These are better suited to replicating riding flats and as such provide a poor substitute for actually getting out and climbing real hills because you are training muscle firing patterns that are much different than what is needed to climb efficiently.

Finally, Cycling Tips has a good article summarizing the differences in how our muscle work when climbing versus riding flats.

  • 2
    the difference in fibre type recruitment for climbing and flat road riding at the same power is minimal. The fundamental factors that influence rate of climbing on a bike are power output sustainable for the duration and the weight of the bike and rider. Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 1:31
  • Fibre type recruitment is mostly determined by the power demand and to some extent, anticipated power demand. Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 2:09
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    @AlexSimmons muscle fiber recruitment at a given moment in time is determined by the instantaneous force being generated (muscle fatigue also plays a role). Power is a measure of work over a unit of time. While power and force are related they are not interchangeable. Different force profiles through the pedal stroke can result in similar power numbers, but differ in muscle recruitment patterns.
    – Rider_X
    Commented Oct 18, 2017 at 18:46
  • Velocity and power can also have instantaneous values (that's pretty basic calculus since P = dW/dt and as t->0, it's simply the slope of the work - duration curve), and it is power that is the primary determinant of muscle fibre type recruitment. It's an important distinction as it's both the force and the velocity of application that matter, i.e. power. Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 3:07

The rate of climbing a hill on a bicycle (under same wind conditions) is determined by pretty simple physics and is directly related to your sustainable power to weight ratio. If the climb is very gentle, then your aerodynamics will also play a role.

To go significantly faster up a given climb you need to increase the power output you can sustain for the duration of the climb and/or to reduce the amount of mass you are moving up the hill.

At 2.4km long, it will be a dominantly aerobic effort, and if a gentle grade a maximal aerobic effort. e.g at 3.5W/kg a 2% gradient climb will take about 5-minutes but a 6% climb will take about 9 minutes. So depending on the sort of time it takes for you to climb, it'll be most likely you'll benefit from working to increase both your threshold power (FTP) and your maximal aerobic power (MAP).

Improving your FTP and your MAP is a function of all the training you do and not any one session. While climbing a hill is helpful in acclimating to the specific demands, it's not absolutely necessary in order to improve the power you can sustain while climbing. What matters is the sum of all the training you do and that it is geared towards improving your ability to sustain higher power output over durations of relevance.

If you wanted to include workouts that are specifically designed to increase your aerobic capabilities for these sorts of durations, then hard aerobic efforts on your indoor trainer would be just fine. For example 4-6 x 5-min efforts with 5-min recoveries would be an example of one sort of session to include once a week for about 6 weeks. They are very hard though and suitable only for those in good health and some training experience. But as I said, one workout does not an improvement in power output make - it needs to be complemented with a suitable overall training structure designed to improve your aerobic fitness.

Reducing the mass you move up a hill is a combination of losing any non power producing mass, i.e. excess body fat, and perhaps a little by reducing the weight of the equipment, clothing and accessories.

For most people though, the greatest gains are through losing excess body fat. This is primarily managed through modifications to your diet - and a little by the amount of total exercise you do.


Cross-training - do gym work to build your core strength and endurance. Avoid bulking up though.

Technique - find hill climbing positions that work for you.

Lightness - drop all your water except a couple mouthfulls before the climb. Don't take anything up that doesn't directly contribute. No tools/pump/spares. Remove excess clothing too - you should already be warmed.

Timing - Ride with a tail wind up the hill on a cool morning.

Records - keep accurate records of your progress... strava segments are awesome for this.

Attitude - Think "I'm gonna do it - going to smash my PR! Going to go faster than Tim, better time than Harley!"

Motivation - follow someone faster than you up the hill, go into oxygen debt in the last couple hundred metres (ie flog it)

Bunch - Draughting on a climb is less effective but still useful. Ride the hill with a bunch if you can.

More motivation - join a race that goes up your hill.

Thank you for the strava link - heres some thoughts based on that.

Here's your time compared with the current KOM. I can't compare your run with your opponent.

From strava


I note that your efforts before crossing the A14 were not insignificant - doign a solid high 20km/h with peaks into the low 30s. Consider doing the first bit as a warmup ride, then dawdle from Swavesey to the A14 at about 10-15 km/h. Eat a gel and have a small drink on this stretch.

For the climb segment - you lost 8 seconds coming from the big roundabout, in the first 200 metres. Get up to speed before the start of the segment - that means start pushing up to speed as soon as you cross the A14.

The next 600 metres is pretty good - you're at about the same speed as the KOM holder through to the left-right wiggle before the two little ponds. This is good.

Finally, KOM holder just rolls away by maintaining a steadily-higher speed. Your only option here is to push harder and not allow any localised steep bits to slow your momentum.

The elevation graph shows a dip at 1100-1200 metres. Is that real or a map artefact? If it is a real downhill you should be pushing real hard from 1000 metres and be accellerating as you crest the brow. Then push down the downhill until you can't pedal that fast, at which point you should be all aero. This is your brief moment to rest. As the road rises again you start pedalling as soon as you can do so effectively. Then change through the gears to keep your cadence up while applying lots of power.

Keep applying power all the way through Boxworth. Once you pass the pub/in then get out of saddle and and you should be at full speed passing Battle Gate Road to follow into Elsworth Road. Sprint right through the ending then coast down and rest.

from Strava

Your HRM data shows a max of 160 BPM, which is hard work but not near peak for your age. I'm 42 and still below average fitness, and on a hard-yakka climb will sit at 175 BPM spiking to 180 BPM when motivated.

Your overall ride data that day looks good - 1.79 W/kg is a solid effort.

enter image description here

Other things to help

  • Set your sights on a rider in front if possible, and work to catch them.

  • Music - Eye of the Tiger, Mortal Kombat, Bob the Builder, whatever does it for you.

  • Ride with other (fast) people for draughting / drafting effect.

  • Do the ride on a day when there's a decent wind from the north or north-east (not sure of your local winds, but for me a nor-wester or howling southerly is a great boost)

  • Do the ride early, when there are fewer cars about. Use more of the lane than you might otherwise if sharing the road nicely.

  • Clipless pedals, if you don't have them, can be a boost. Personally its mostly about being able to unweight the rising pedal and not loose the foot position, but for very short durations you can pull up on the back pedal for additional power. Good for getting over a short hump or around a switchback.

Lastly - target this segment only. This is a sprint over 2400 metres, its not the whole 28km ride. Put ALL your effort into this one stretch of road only. Strava says its 33 metres of elevation change - you don't need to pace yourself for this. Smash it!

  • Wow, I've never seen an answer so consise and specialised. Thank you v.much!! :)
    – John Hunt
    Commented Oct 18, 2017 at 8:25
  • Also, my chances of getting KOM on this segment are.. pretty low. Luke is an ex-pro, extremely fast. Aim high though! :)
    – John Hunt
    Commented Oct 18, 2017 at 9:16
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    @JohnHunt finally this answer is too specific to you and your target, and doesn't deserve to be accepted. I suggest accepting RiderX's answer instead because it addresses your question properly, and is actually useful to a larger audience.
    – Criggie
    Commented Oct 18, 2017 at 9:38
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    While this is a very specific answer to a very specific situation, it's a great example of how to use the tools the rider already has at his disposal to answer his own question. For that, it deserves a +1.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Oct 18, 2017 at 13:43
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    @FreeMan more info - I use a Chrome plugin called Stravistix to get more info out of strava.
    – Criggie
    Commented Oct 18, 2017 at 19:06

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