5 ways a bike trainer can prepare you for long climbs

If you’re heading to the Alps on holiday or you’ve entered a mountainous Gran Fondo, you’ll need to improve your climbing in advance. But most of us don’t have a mountain on our doorstep to train on. So how to prepare for long climbs? Here we explain how you can use your bike trainer to become an amazing climber, without leaving home.

When the road goes up, there’s nowhere to hide. If you haven’t prepared yourself for climbing, then the power of gravity can come us a shock. Often the inner voice awakens, and weak legs are accompanied by heavy breathing and a soaring heart rate. Luckily, with an indoor trainer and a little know-how, you can prepare effectively for an epic day in the mountains. In fact, your indoor trainer can be much more effective than outdoor riding if you follow these simple guidelines.

1) Targeting your threshold
The key to mountain climbing is being able to put out a sustained effort for a long period without going into the red. Targeting your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) is key. Raise your FTP: you’ll climb faster. We’ve written extensively about how to test your FTP, so use this to find your starting point.

The best way to raise your FTP is to train slightly below it. Commonly known as the Sweet Spot, this zone lies at around 10% below your FTP. Try starting out with two 20 minute efforts at this intensity. Gradually build it up, and depending on your climbing goals, you can aim to hold Sweet Spot for up to 2 hours.

A power meter on your bike or on the trainer is extremely useful for this, although not essential. With a simple speed and cadence sensor you can upgrade your basic trainer to a smart trainer and let the software calculate your virtual power.

2) Perfect your climbing technique
Aerodynamics become less important when climbing. On your home trainer, practice sitting upright and comfortably with your hands lightly gripping the tops and sit further back on the saddle.

Raising the front wheel of your bike on the trainer will accurately simulate your position on the climbs. When the gradient increases and you’re forced to dig deeper, applying greater pressure on the pedals, it results in a narrowing of the hip angle and greater glute activation. This puts a strain on the back and allows you to work muscles in a way you never do on the flat.

Pedalling style is also key. On long climbs, small inefficiencies in your style can inhibit performance. Here, the indoor trainer comes into its own. To make every watt count, try and scrape one foot back as you push with the other. Ensure it’s smooth and practice this on the trainer until it becomes instinctive.

Finally, the most efficient cadence for climbing is around 80 rpm. See if this works for you or find a level that feels comfortable. But don’t use too big a gear for long climbs as it will exhaust you more quickly.

3) Spice it up with structured plans
Once you have an increased threshold and a perfected riding technique, you can take things to the next level. We have some excellent software and apps that will give you variety in your preparation and ensure endless training motivation.

Hone your form by creating your own custom workouts or by following our ready-made structured training plans. If you’re targeting some of the major Tour and Giro climbs, you can even do your own reconnaissance with our large collection of real-life videos.

TrainerRoad and Zwift are also compatible with Tacx trainers. They provide you with a myriad of options to enhance the training experience and ensure you reach peak form for the big day.

4) Practice refuelling
Hard efforts for long periods near threshold will quickly deplete glycogen supplies. However, this doesn’t mean that you should fuel heavily on carbohydrates before each training session. Encouraging your body to burn more fat for fuel by depriving it of carbohydrate will enable it to become more fat adapted.

Save the high sugar treats for the actual climbing. A mixture of fasted workouts and workouts fueled by lower glycemic foods will aid in adaptation while also providing a healthier alternative.

Fluid intake is important especially on hot mountainous stages. Another way to prepare is to turn off your fan and tax your body with higher temperatures on the trainer. Ensure you drink sufficient fluid as even moderate losses through sweating can inhibit performance drastically over the course of a long day in the mountains.

5) Know your power to weight ratio
Climbing all comes down to power to weight ratio. Usually expressed in watts/kg, it is calculated by dividing the power you generate by your body weight in kilograms. Anything over 4 watts/kg at threshold is impressive. In general, the lighter you are the faster you’ll climb. For those of you with a few kilos to shed, here’s an article we previously published on losing weight. You’ll definitely climb faster as a result.

In conclusion: Know that the distraction-free precision our trainers offer enable you to work on key factors that can transform you into a superior climber. Whether it’s consistent efforts just below threshold, or perfecting your pedal technique and posture, our line of trainers can emulate the mountains in a way that no flat road can!