Where I used to live, there was a very steep slope going up a mountain pass. So steep in fact that I was unable to cycle up it on my bicycle. My friend could and that used to make me jealous. No matter how hard I tried, I was simply unable to cover the whole slope on my bike. I would cycle longer and harder all in a bid to get fitter and get over that slope but it didn’t work.
And then I started running. After a few weeks, I went back up that slope and surprised myself by suddenly being able to do all of it on my bike. Running helped! That made me think. Cycling to get better at cycling is not the only way to do it. Here are a couple of ways I found to handle tough slopes on my bicycle.
Any type of running will help you, especially if you’ve never done it before. You can simply go out there and run till you can’t anymore but I prefer a more structured approach. No marathon session as we are not going for a world record nor have a few hours per session to spare! I like to go running for 30 minutes up to no more than 1 hour. Anything less than half hour is not challenging enough; anything more than one hour makes it become like a marathon session. If you intend to spend a whole day in the saddle, it might help but if you want to retain your power and stamina over medium distances, you’re better off saving your muscles for runs of less than an hour.
If you find it boring to run flat out for a period of time, try alternating sprints with walking or slow running and try different slopes.
Remember to always run on soft surfaces to protect your joints over time. Grass is a great surface as it absorbs all the shocks and provides resistance against your feet, especially when the grass is long, making you run harder.
Do you think that lifting weights will make you bulky? Don’t worry, it’s not that easy to bulk up, otherwise there wouldn’t be a whole industry selling supplements just for that.
Lifting weights helps to build strong muscles and cyclists do a lot of leg exercises already so I won’t be mentioning that but rather focusing on secondary muscles that assist cyclists. The weakest link in your body will hamper progress so you should not neglect these muscles too. Those target muscles are the back and the shoulders in particular.
The shoulders hold your upper body over the handlebars and help you grasp and control the handlebars. You don’t want to find it hard to hold up your torso after two hours in the saddle and get distracted from using your legs to maximum effect. Working the shoulders is easy: a few pressing exercises described here and you’re done.
Many cyclists face back pain due to the poor posture adopted on the saddle, crouching to reduce air resistance. The spine is designed to have a slight S curve; crouching for a long time in the saddle is not a natural position for it. To strengthen the back, you can do some exercises outlined here as well as the famous pull-ups which target more the upper back.
Another reason why the back is important in cycling is that it provides the pulling power to cycle hard. Imagine you are going uphill. You stand up on the pedals and push hard. But you are also pulling hard at the same time on the handlebars.
If you want to see noticeable gains in your cycling performance, try running as outlined here to improve your cardio ability and strengthen your muscles in the strategic bodyparts for reasons we explained.