Tips for specializing on climbing on trainer

Hey everyone,

I thought maybe it is a good idea to open a topic on this. I am a beginner, did 8 weeks of (basic-)training now (first time in my life). Have very nice increases in realworld performance. Now as I live next to the mountains and I love going up, I have to specialize myself on climbing :).

I have a dumb trainer. I train 3 -5 times a week indoors and will keep doing so, because I just love training on a dumb trainer. I will switch one or two of the easy sessions from the dumb trainer to the outdoors once wheather allows. But training will always be on trainer for me.

Currently I am thinking it would be best to follow a “normal” training plan and do intervals of that training plan at slow rpm (not all of them), to simulate going up (efforts at low rpm).

That is also the only thing I can think of to specialize myself towards climbing on a dumb trainer. For instance, if my training plan says to do 4x5 intervalls and I do them at slow rpm, it is the same as if I would climb for 5 minutes in each of the intervalls … at least thats my beginner logic.

Any other ideas, tips what one should do to specifically increase climbing ability?

My goal is to be able to climb the nearest mountain (1k m height difference from home) “for fun after work”. Currently I can do the first third “for fun”, then it gets serious (just to give context).


Hi Bernhard,

You pose an interesting question; like all interesting questions, it raises a few questions of its own: firstly, does your target climb have a name? It would be helpful to know the specifics of the climb in order to help you train for it. Secondly, although you mention that you are new to formal cycle training it would be helpful to know a little about your background; are you new to formal training generally? I’ll assume that you are reasonably fit if you can already cope with 1k metres of height gain after work. And before I dive into your question I hope you’ll forgive if I say ‘get a smart trainer!’. If it’s possible for you it will repay you many times over.

To begin at the end, so to speak, you mention that ‘Currently I can do the first third “for fun”, then it gets serious’. You also mention that you hope to replicate climbing conditions by means of slow-cadence (RPM) efforts. Taking these two points together suggests that your current gearing may be encouraging you to go too hard. I think many recreational cyclists (myself included) simply lack the power and endurance to push traditional road bike gearing up long Alpine ascents. (I assume here that your target climb is reasonably consistent in terms of gradient). My own cadence sweet spot is 88- 95 RPM; coupled with a relatively modest power output this means that having an enjoyable time on the big hills requires gearing that is more mountain bike than road bike.

Regarding your intervals: 4 x 5 suggests that you are jumping straight from base to some really hard interval work. Not of necessity a bad thing (depending on your training history) but you may find that doing longer, less intense intervals will provide a bridge to the hard stuff, as well as possibly providing good training for your climb.

How do you propose to measure intensity? You may perhaps be aware that heart rate is less reliable than other metrics over short durations. Five minute intervals would therefore be hard to pace with heart rate. If you have cadence measurement on your bike you might pace by feel: pace your work intervals at something like your fastest hill-climbing pace and so on; difficult to get right though. Perhaps your best option (assuming you don’t have a power meter on the bike) would be to pace on breathing. Carry out a talk test: while pedalling, if you can speak in full sentences without pausing for breath then you are below the first ventilatory threshold; if you can’t but talking is still possible then you are between the first and second thresholds; if you can only snatch words here and there then you are above the second threshold. Your base training will likely have been mostly below first threshold; hard hill-climbing is often done just below the second threshold; above the second threshold lie VO2max intervals in the 2- to 8-minute range, anaerobic intervals and sprints.

Now for increasing climbing ability: assuming your target climb is a typical alpine climb then the physical challenge is one of moderate strength endurance. You have built some endurance during base. Next you’ll need to gain strength by increasing the intensity. Once you have a hard but comfortable intensity add endurance by increasing the interval length. I go out as far as 60 minutes at sweet spot (just under the second threshold) if I know that I’ll be doing alpine climbs. A good place to start would be 2 x 10 minutes and build from there. Whether you need the blood and guts hard work of VO2max intervals will depend on many factors (and they are something that many older folks such as myself are now advised to consider); but unless you know you need them I wouldn’t feel compelled to work at such high intensity until you have a good deal more on-bike training time.

I hope the above helps!


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Hey, thank you for the long answer. Unfortnately english is not my first language and it shows.

I am a beginner to ‘formal’ training, started last autumn (both cycling and trainer). I am doing beginner training plans and am generally happy with progress and the tools at my disposal.

Just noticed that I am always spinning at 90to100 rpm in training on the trainer, which is not what happens in reallife when going up.

So my question is more about strategies of training hills on dumb trainer, not about changing gear or training tips.

I have identified the strategy of doing training intervals at higher gearing and thus forcing lower rpm to ‘simulate’ going up.

I was wondering whether others have more tips/strategies concerning training specifically for climbing.

For example I also think that if climbing is my goal doing trainigs that improve sprint makes little sense, it is more about long efforts not about short bursts.

Sorry again if my english is too bad for this to make sense. Regards