I like climbing and have been asked this question a few times. Thought it would be good to pen this here. No secrets. Here is how I climb:
- Pace the climb properly. First, know the climb well. The distance and changes in gradient are important considerations. Next, understand your max power output for that period. Then, remain within your power limits during the climb. Do not be tempted to rush into it, powering up over 1,000 watts only to blow up midway. I pace such that I get gradually faster as I progress up the climb. It helps me mentally.
- Pedal smoothly. Do not stomp the pedals on the down stroke. I focus on pedaling in circles. Any power exerted beyond a smooth pedal stroke is power wasted. Keep things nice and smooth even though your body is suffering.
- Swap muscles. During long climbs, your quads will eventually feel as if they are on fire, because they are. Take the chance to make good use of your hamstrings. You do not have to wait for your quads to be expended before going for the hamstrings. Mix them up early to keep all muscle options fresh for as long as possible.
- Stay seated. This is a personal preference largely due to my lack of strong core muscles. I stay seated for all climbs. Standing may generate more power and could provide space for stretching but it is unsustainable for me.
- High cadence. I go around 20% higher than my usual cadence for short climbs and around 10% for long ones. Going high cadence is choosing to offer some relief to your leg muscles by sacrificing your heart and lungs. I feel that my heart and lungs recover faster so going high cadence improves overall sustainability. Always ready to drop to the smaller chain ring to achieve this.
- Focus on breathing. Looking up the road is demoralising. Looking down at your power meter becomes boring. (Just take a glance off and on to ensure you are not in the red.) What I do to take my mind off the pain is to focus on exhaling since inhaling will handle itself and it is not nice to feel like you are gasping for air. When possible, I try to reduce my breathing rate to keep my heart rate down, as it is easy to over extend via the high cadence method.
Would love to hear tips from you too!