Climbing Skill Drills

By Peg Labiuk | 05/15/12
Climbing Skill Drills

Photo © Jonathan Devich/

We’ve teamed up with Marilyn Trout, certified USA Cycling Elite Coach to answer Voler Newsletter List members’ training questions. You can view her coach profile at Send your cycling inquiries to Marilyn, and for a limited time, if yours is selected to be answered in our Training column, Voler will send you a $20 gift certificate that can be used towards any purchase from the Voler Store at To submit your inquiry, e-mail her at, and type “Voler Training Question” in the subject line of the e-mail.

The following tip is a reprint of a 2009 question submitted by Voler E-Mail List member Brad Burns. His training question that follows was answered by Peg Labiuk (nee Peggy Maass), a colleague of Marilyn Trout, and a certified NCCP level 3 coach with a career in international road and track racing. She is a World Championship medalist, World Record holder, U.S. Olympic Team member, former British national team coach and Kreb's Cycle co-founder (British Columbia, Canada).

Climbing Skill Drills


I have heard some say to stay seated during a hill climb and others say to stand up during the climb.

I have tried both - staying seated feels like I don't get as tired but I am going slower up the climb. Standing helps my speed but at the end of the climb I am more winded and it takes longer to recover. Which do you think is the better method for climbing and is there some training drills I can do to improve my climbing skills?



You described those two climbing techniques exactly, along with their respective energy requirements.  Seated climbing is more efficient.   Out of the saddle climbing uses more upper body muscles, which costs more energy but gets you up climbs faster.  You can usually use a harder gear with the standing method.  To decide which to use, weigh these factors:

  • The steepness of the terrain.  Some climbs are so steep you need to stand.  If you stayed seated you might not have an easy enough gear to keep spinning up it efficiently.
  • The length of the climb.  If the climb is short and steep, you can opt to stand.   If it’s long, you might stay seated but stand occasionally to change up the effort.
  • The pace of the ride.  If you want to keep a steady effort, stay seated.  If it is a race or fast group ride, you might need to stand to maintain the speed of the group.  Or, if you want to attack and pick up the pace, stand as if beginning a sprint.

To gain experience in judging which method to use and what gear to choose, practice each method on a variety of hills.  You might use a heart rate monitor or power meter to assist you with feedback about the effort.  Make note of what gear you use.  Try different gears seated, different gears standing. Just like sprint training, keep practicing the timing of shifting and when to stand to become more proficient technically, as well as, improving your fitness to last the full effort.   I’m an advocate of timing these ascents as you would intervals.  Then you know which method is faster, how hard the effort is, and how well you recover.  You’ll see improvement over time in your fitness and your ability to judge which method to choose and what gear to select.  I think that you may find that staying seated conserves the most energy.  While others may be standing in a harder gear and muscling it up a climb, you could be seated and spinning an easier gear, saving up for the next effort.  I especially notice the difference in repeated climbs, like in a criterium or circuit race – you can stay relaxed seated and save up for more crucial moves.

Another tip that helped me is to learn to stand up by raising my hips, not by pulling on the bars, which pulls you forward towards the stem.  If you keep your hips above the bottom bracket and feel your hamstring brushing the nose of the seat, you can use that body position to help push down the pedals.  I notice when some riders come too far forward they end up holding their upper body steady with their arms.  They miss out on swinging the handlebars side to side to help them climb.  You also need to use your arms when climbing seated.  Place your hands on top of the handlebars on either side of the stem (as opposed to hands on the brake hoods), pulling back with each down stroke.  Sit up tall to improve your breathing.   There is a lot of emphasis on climbing in our sport.  You’ll do well to master both techniques.


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