You either love it or hate it and most people hate it. Hill climbing is a scourge for many cyclists. But it doesn’t have to be. Hills push your limits, making your stronger and faster in the long run. I’ve been focusing lately on trying to improve my climbing speed and strength. For the most part, this means getting my butt on my bike and riding some gut-busting hills. However, I’ve also been doing some work on my yoga mat to improve my climbing performance.
I’ve noticed that I have a tendency to take rapid, shallow breaths while climbing a big hill. This is because I’m stressed at the sight of that mountain ahead of me and I start breathing from my chest. Chest breathing prohibits a good flow of oxygen to the legs and causes them to tire or cramp.
Yoga emphasizes deep breathing from the diaphragm. You can practice this breathing off the bike by placing one hand on your belly and another on your chest. Breathe in deeply through your nose and make sure your diaphragm, not your chest, fills with enough air to feel a stretch in your lungs. It is also tempting for me to bear down and roll my shoulders in when tackling a steep incline. But, by keeping the chest open it is easier to stick to deep, belly breathing. Here is some more great information on breathing while cycling.
I also use yoga poses to open and strengthen my hips. Cycling is a predominantly lateral movement which strengthens quadriceps and calves, but neglects hips.One of my favorite hip openers is pigeon pose. I like bridge pose for strengthening my hips and core.
I’m not going to lie to you and tell you I’ve achieved hill climbing zen at this point. But, the more work I can do both on and off the saddle the more strength and confidence I am able to achieve. Do you have any tips or exercises of your own to share?