Whether you ride indoors or out, you’ll find that climbs come in all shapes and sizes, varying in length, pitch, and level of suffering. But there’s one thing we can say about every climb: we all wish we could get up them faster!
So how do you do it? Well, the first answer is obvious: get stronger. But that’s a lot of work. Are there other ways to improve your climb times? Yes! Here are nine tips specifically written to help Zwifters climb those virtual hills more quickly.
When your body overheats, your power drops fast. This is what makes long climbs in outdoor heat such a slog: you have very little wind hitting your body for evaporative cooling. You have control over airflow indoors, so be sure to use a fan or two and keep your body’s cooling systems humming along.
#2: Stay Seated
Thanks to Zwift’s default 50% trainer difficulty setting you should be able to maintain a decent cadence up almost any climb with most gearing setups. If you can only climb well out of the saddle, your gearing is wrong or you need to build power.
Shift forward and back on your seat on longer climbs, which will slightly change the muscles being used. When seated you should be able to maintain a cadence of 85-95 rpm so you aren’t rocking back and forth or mashing the pedals.
Most riders (other than Alberto Contador) should only stand up for short intervals to power through a steep section or get a short break by changing position. Speaking of standing up…
These are taking the indoor cycling world by storm, and for good reason: they make indoor riding more comfortable and realistic!
Most climbs of any length include at least a bit of out of the saddle work, and a rocker plate will make those efforts much more natural and comfortable since the bike can rock back and forth instead of your body rocking while the bike stays vertical.
Want to build your own? Here are the complete plans >
#4: Flatten Your Feet
You can lose power if you pedal with your toes pointed downwards. Keeping your feet fairly flat, with a stiffer ankle, will let you transfer maximum power from your calves.
#5: Break It Up
Cycling is an endurance sport, which means many of the toughest battles are fought in your mind. Instead of focusing on the total length of a long climb, break it into short 1-2 minute segments and concentrate on the segment you’re riding. You’ll probably find the overall climb feels shorter, and the mental stress is reduced.
For example, I break London’s Box Hill into these sections:
- Lead into the first hairpin
- Straight section after the first hairpin
- Second hairpin to the white painted tarmac
- White painted tarmac
- Long haul to the hard right turn
- Flat run into the KOM banner
#6: Drop Weight
It’s no accident that Zwift has made w/kg a ubiquitous metric for cyclists who train indoors. Watts per kilogram is the single most important metric when it comes to climbing, as it combines your power (watts) with your weight (kilograms). These are the two major factors which determine how quickly you’ll ascend the hill.
There are only two ways to boost your w/kg. You can increase your power output through training, and you can decrease your weight.
How much difference does weight make? Here are some numbers from BikeCalculator.com for a 5km grade at 7% and 300 watts:
- 85kg rider finishes in 21.22 minutes
- 80kg rider finishes in 20.25 minutes
- 75kg rider finishes in 19.29 minutes
That’s approximately one minute saved per 5kg of weight loss on a climb like Watopia’s Epic KOM.
The frameset and wheels you choose in Zwift affect your speed, so when you’re doing a long climb like Alpe du Zwift you’ll want the lightest bike. Read this post for the results of our climbing speed tests.
#8: Stay Loose
It’s easy to get tight and white-knuckle grip your bars when you’re going hard, but those are wasted watts. Keep your grip loose, and concentrate on keeping your breathing even.
#9: Use a Feather
The feather powerup reduces your weight by 15 pounds for 15 seconds. Especially useful in a race situation when you want to attack the pack, or are struggling to hang on while others attack. More about powerups in Zwift >
So there you have it, nine ways to get up those hills faster. Give them a try and let me know how they work out for you. Better yet, share your climbing tips below!