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How to use your indoor trainer to make you a better climber

During cold months, get prepared for spring, when you'll fly up the hills

Photo by: Matt Stetson

If you’re looking to up your climbing game, your indoor trainer is a great way to do it. When it’s cold out, it’s hard to get proper hill repeats in. With all those layers, and cold temps, you may find it difficult to get your heart rate up and pedal fluidly. But the good news is you can use your trainer to work on all the things that will make you a better climber come spring.

The winter isn’t all about recharging and resting. It’s also a great time to work on getting better for the spring. Like the old saying goes, “champions are made in the off-season.”

The workouts below can be used on their own, or if you have programs like Zwift or Rouvy, you can find courses that have climbs to simulate the hills.

1. Short Climbs

Climbs come in all sizes and gradients. If shorter ones aren’t your bag, good news–you can get better at it. The best way to consider a short hill is basically a sprint. When you jump on the trainer, you want to follow the same protocol as you would outside so you train the same muscles you will once you’re outside. Place your hands on the hoods and get ready to give it for a short time.

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1. You’ll want to put it in a smaller (easier) gear to start, as if you’re riding on the flat.
2. Shift into a bigger gear, enough so that your cadence is around 60 r.p.m.
3. Standing on the pedals, sprint for one minute as hard as you can.
4. Shift it into a slighter easier gear, then do another minute sitting down. You’ll want to be at 90 per cent of your FTP at this point.
5. Once you’re finished, switch to an easier gear and spin it out for two minutes. Repeat three times.

Long hill repeats

Longer hills are all about pacing. You need to train your body and mind to suffer for the right amount of time without blowing up. Make sure you warm up properly for this workout.

1. Ride 8 minutes at 70 r.p.m at 90 per cent of your FTP.
2. After eight minutes, shift up into a smaller (easier) gear, so that your r.p.m is 90, and spin hard to get up to 110 of your FTP. This is to simulate one of the most important parts of a climb, the crest. If you can give it over the crest in a climb, you’ll make distance on your rivals in a race or group ride.
3. Rest for five minutes, and then repeat 4-6 times.

Pedal balance workout

Being a good climber also involves using both legs in sync. You want to make sure both your right leg and left leg are doing equal amounts of work.

How to stay injury-free on the trainer this winter

1. Each workout should last two minutes maximum. You’ll be using hard gears, so focus on making sure both legs are pushing evenly. This is not an aerobic exercise, so there’s no need to exhaust yourself or have a high heart rate.
2. Shift into the biggest (hardest) gear, whatever gear that is large enough such that it will force you to spin at 50 r.p.m. The key for this exercise involves being seated the entire time.
3. Ride for two minutes at the low cadence. As you ride, focus not only on your legs and feet, but your back and abs. The more stable you are in your core, the more energy goes directly to the pedals.
4. Keep the duration at two minutes, but after a while you can build up to five. After the exercise, you should notice you’re pedalling much smoother.