Four tips for cycling uphill

By Michelle Valenti
Some people make cycling uphill look effortless, other people huff, puff, and grind their way to the top, expending so much effort that it’s hard to recover—even on the descent. So what’s the secret to a steady, sustainable climb?
First and most importantly, go your own pace. If you are in the middle of a long ride, the last thing you want to do is expend all your energy trying to beat your riding partner to the top of a hill.
Here are four more tips that could make your next climb a little bit easier.
Shifting and Cadence
As the hill approaches, and while you are still on flat road, shift down into an easier gear. Don’t shift all the way down at first; leave yourself some gears to use when the climb steepens.
Your cadence will likely drop from what you could maintain on flat roads but try to keep a cadence of about 70 to 80 RPMs up the hill. The slower you turn the pedals, the more power it takes to push through each rotation. A steady cadence means your momentum can help carry you over the climb.
Full Circles
Pushing on the front side is only half of the rotation: You have to help the pedals through the bottom, around the back, and over the top of the rotation, too. In other words, make complete circles with your feet.
Experiment with these circles on an indoor trainer by pedaling with one leg at a time. Unclip one foot and hold it off to the side or rest it on a chair, then pedal with the other one for a couple of minutes. It will quickly become clear where the weak spots are in your pedal stroke. Pay particularly close attention to the bottom of your stroke, and the back—where your foot comes back around and up over the top.
Arm and Body Position
On long climbs, put your hands on top of the handlebars with your knuckles facing forward and your arms slightly bent—this helps keep the blood flowing. Keep your chest up and your shoulders down to allow greater air flow to your lungs. If you stand, move your hands to the hoods for better control.
It’s easy to tense up the harder you work so be sure to check in with your body position every so often. Take a deep breath, lower your shoulders away from your ears (like they tell you to do in yoga), straighten your back, and make sure that slight bend is still in your elbows.
Sitting vs. Standing
On slow, gradual climbs, stay seated for as long as possible—this helps you maintain a higher cadence for a longer period of time.  Standing, although it may generate more power, slows down the pedal stroke and breaks your rhythm.
Of course if you simply need to shake things up in order to keep going, by all means, stand up and give your legs a break.

Michelle Valenti is the cycling and triathlon editor at She can be reached at