I'm often asked by athletes how they can become better climbers. There are many ways/tactics to become BETTER at climbing hills (and I'll mention them in a bit) but the BEST way (or tactic) to become a better climber is to improve your power-to-weight ratio. That is your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) in watts divided by your weight in kg. Just to give you an idea of some of the Power to Weight ratios out there, I've listed the w/kg from Professional riders down to recreational riders. They are as follows: World Class Professional- 6.5 w/kg, Domestic Pro- 6 w/kg, Cat 1- 5.3 w/kg, Cat 2- 4.7 w/kg, Cat 3- 4 w/kg, Cat 4- 3.5 w/kg, Cat 5- 3 w/kg, recreational rider- <3 w/kg.
To determine what your power-to-weight ratio is you first need to know what your FTP is. Then, you need to know what your weight is in kg. To find that, just divide your weight in lbs. by 2.2. Here's an example: Know FTP= 270w, Weight= 171 lbs. Therefore, w/kg= 270/171/2.2= 3.5 w/kg which would be Cat 4 power. (BTW, these are my numbers and right where I'm racing- Cat 4.)
Ok, now how do you increase your w/kg? There are two ways (actually 3), they are: a) increase your FTP b) decrease your weight or c) both a. and b. I don't know if there is much written about what is a BETTER/FASTER/EASIER way to increase w/kg but I can tell you from personal experience the BETTER/FASTER/EASIER way is to lose weight. You can do all the hill repeats, threshold and VO2 max interval workouts you want to increase muscular power/strength but it's not going to make you a better climber faster/easier than losing weight. Since starting cycling seriously in 2003 I've lost a total 54 lbs. That's right OVER 50 lbs. I'm not sure what my FTP was back then but I'm guessing it wasn't much more than what it is currently. So, don't listen to anyone that will tell you that you'll lose power if you lose weight. Yes, if you're an elite athlete that may be true. But, how many elite athletes do you know that are overweight? So, drop that twinkie right now...drink one less beer when you go out to eat/drink or pass on that ice cream cone for water ice..or whatever...and start watching what you put in your mouth NOW. If you truly want to be a better climber you MUST be lean.
Here are some other tactics that will help you become a better climber: a) Pace yourself- if you know the hill you're climbing is going to take 5 minutes...ride at your VO2max pace, if the hill is longer..close to 20 minutes..ride it at your Threshold pace. Do NOT go too hard and end up blowing-up on the hill. I see this ALL THE TIME on group rides I go on b) Gearing- make sure the gearing on your bike is suited to your self-selected cadence and the hills you normally climb. If you think that you're pedaling too hard, change your cassette or maybe even switch to a Compact Crank. BTW, I ride with a Compact Crank and I LOVE IT! c) Drift- start the climb at the front of the group and slowly drift to the back. You can conserve a lot of energy this way. d) Stay seated- staying seated conserves more energy. Sure it's ok to get out of the saddle from time to time to stretch the legs and clear some lactic acid. e) Be a good follower- set your sights on someone in the group that you can follow..perhaps someone you know that went out too hard that you can reel in. It's fun to pass someone that went out too hard/fast on a hill..because they are SUFFERING big time...and you know they hate watching you blow by them. At least I think it's fun to pass them. It's not my fault they went out too hard/fast. It just shows their inexperience in my opinion.
So, drop that twinkie or dump that beer...get out on your bike and ride so you lose weight and when you climb that hill..climb smart by pacing properly! Power On!!!