Training

Coach’s Corner: Evan Huffman’s climbing workout

Two options: The pro version and the 'rest of us' workout.

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What

In many ways, this climbing workout is about training your ability to never ease off. “The hardest part is the easier section, because you’re mentally trained to do the effort and then just coast,” says Huffman. “There’s a big mental benefit. Like building that endurance to not just do a hard effort and then stop pedaling.”

Why

If the goal is simply to get over a big climb, then threshold work is all you need. Racing a climb is different, says Huffman. “It’s not very steady in a race, especially on shorter climbs,” Huffman says. People attack and you must respond. So, training your ability to surge and then recover at moderate intensities is crucial.

When

This over-under routine is not a year-round workout. During the base season, just focus on building your engine. Huffman starts this routine about a month before his first race and then does it weekly during the season to get good race specific work.

How

Let’s start with Huffman’s “pro” version and then offer ways to modify it. Huffman uses a 15- to 20-minute climb and performs four repeats where he will average around his threshold or FTP power (the maximum power he can sustain for an hour). But his goal is to mimic racing where each climb gets successively more aggressive:

  • First Climb: ride steady at 90 percent of FTP
  • Second Climb: do repeats alternating between 3 minutes at 90 percent FTP and 2 minutes at FTP
  • Third Climb: do repeats alternating between 3 minutes at 90 percent and 1 minute at 120 percent of FTP
  • Fourth Climb: alternate between one minute at FTP and 10 seconds all-out for 10 to 12 minutes

For the rest of us:

Fifteen plus minutes, four times is a superhuman effort. You also may not have a 20-minute climb near you. So, here’s a few ways to make the workout more realistic:

  • Just do three climbs with the first, second, and fourth protocol above
  • Or, shorten each climb to 8- to 10-minutes (i.e. fewer repeats)
  • If the longest climb you have is just a few minutes, start each repeat on the flats and time it so you finish at the top.

Add cadence work:

Joe Dombrowski does a lot of cadence work when climbing. You can add a little cadence work to the protocol above by:

  • On the first steady climb, alternate between 3 minutes at 55RPM and 3 minutes at 100 RPM
  • On the second and third climbs, do either the over portion or the under portion at 55 to 65 RPM.

Trevor Connor is a long-time cycling coach and elite race. He holds degrees in exercise physiology and nutrition from Colorado State University.