No-Climb Climbing Bike Workout

ByChris Carmichael  from

climbingIt’s a special day in a cyclist’s life the first time the prospect of riding uphill is met with a smile instead of a grimace. To help you get there, let’s focus on two components of climbing: sustainable power at lactate threshold (LT) and agility.

Lactate threshold pace is the intensity you could theoretically hold for one hour. The best way to improve yours is by climbing at or just below your current LT. For example, you might do three 12-minute hill repeats–you’re going hard, but could speed up if you had to–separated by five minutes of easy spinning. Cyclists have been doing workouts like this for decades.

The downside to focusing solely on this type of training, however, is that you’ll develop fitness that only partially matches the real-world demands of climbing. You also have to develop what some cycling coaches call agility–the ability to handle changes in pace and power output.

Part of successful climbing is learning when to use your power and when to recover. When you’re headed uphill, anything from changes in pitch to the whims of a pack can cause your power and cadence to fluctuate more than they would during a structured workout. You may need to throw in a surge to keep up, or stand out of the saddle. If you’re trying to ride up a hill as fast as possible, you should be producing a bit more power on steep sections and little less on flatter sections, without any wild fluctuations. In power-meter terms: If you can maintain 300 watts for a 20-minute climb, you want to produce about 315 watts on steep parts and 285 on flatter ones–not 400 on the steeps and then 200 because you’re cooked.

The more time you spend climbing, the faster you’ll develop agility. But what if you live in a flat area or ride mostly on the trainer? Then you’ll need to insert a wider variety of power and cadence levels into your threshold workouts. Try the set at left twice a week.

The No-Climb Climbing Workout
This is a 3×12-minute set. Start each 12-minute interval at LT intensity (a perceived effort level of 8 out of 10) with a cadence of 80 to 85 rpm. But during each one, you’ll throw in 10 surges (listed at right). Do the surges in any order; in between, you’ll return to LT intensity. Ride easy for six minutes between intervals.

Quantity 3 3 2 2
Duration :20 :40 1:00 1:30
Cadence (rpm) 60-65 70-75 75-80 85-90
Percent max
sustainable power*
150 120 110 100
Goal average power
for effort**
450 360 330 300


*No power meter? Do surges at varying combinations of gearing and cadence.
**Assumes a sustainable climbing power–the amount you’d average on a 20-minute ascent–of 300 watts.