How to survive the hills

Hi Zwifters

I always get dropped on the hills when I race.

I’m 81kg, with an ftp at 3,1w/kg . I’m in cat C. How can I prevent this better? (besides trainer harder and eating less of cause)

Can I do anything tactially in the race to avoid getting dropped - or at least minimize the risk of it? I mostly do races with 1,5 - 2,5 km hills with 6-8% average.

What are your experinces?


Do you do specific hill/climb training? You might be surprised at how much better you can get at climbing. I did a race a bunch of years ago, a 1/2 IM, with something like 6500 feet of climbing. Killed me dead. I came back home and started weekly climbing workouts, just repeats of a couple of hills, coast down again, repeat. Got a lot better. Also helped to work on things like continuing the climb up over the top. A lot of people ease up when the grade eases up–one key to climbing well (there are many) is to keep the power up until after you’re heading back downhill. Drop all those people who ease up :slight_smile: But also helps train to keep up the watts for the last bit.

One tactic that gets used in IRL racing for worse climbers is to get to the climb at the front, or just off the front, of the bunch. That way you can filter back down through the bunch during the climb, and hopefully stand a better chance of being in the back of the bunch at the end. If you start at the back, you’ll get dropped. And catching the bunch is Zwift is an awful experience. You don’t necessarily need to launch a massive attack, but if you can get some space off the front of a small group, or get to the front of a big group, to start the climb, that can help.

A couple of thoughts:

  1. If the hills are your ‘pain point’ be sure to line up with a bike/wheel set up that helps in the hills. This will, of course, give a bit of a ‘penalty’ elsewhere, but if you’re not having issues there you might as well give it a shot to see if a lighter set up helps out.
  2. Forget ‘eat less’ and start with ‘eat less often’. It’s the ‘digestive rest’ (aka timed eating, intermittent fasting, whatever) that will help to drop your insulin levels and increase your body’s fat utilization. You may also find that you’re eating fewer calories as your body adapts to metabolizing fat for fuel, but don’t just restrict your calories while eating 16 hours a day.

Good luck in your quest!

No I don’t train climbing. I use hilly crit-races 2-3 a week as some kind of HIIT-training, and then I do some long zone 2 rides 1-2 times a week. It was never my intention to race for wins - so my training schedule are not developed for that. But know I cant take not winning, so maybe I should change my training goals :sweat_smile: Keeping the effort over the top, may be a good place to start.

Next time I’ll try to get to the front of the group before hand - see what that does to my chances.

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You might find that you can like climbing in training. For me there was a dopamine/reward that started happening when I was first able to really nail it up over the top of a climb that had challenged me before. Just getting to the top is one thing, but when you finally, even just the one time, not only get to the top but power over the top (‘power’ being relative to the person, of course, lol)…it just feels good. And might make you want to keep doing it, and thereby get better at it. I don’t know that I’m a ‘good climber’ all things considered now–I’m still a big person who is apparently physiologically tuned for sprinting–but I think I’m a ‘good climber for my size’. Task-focused training helps.

Maybe see if there are like-minded people you know on Zwift who want to do hill repeats as a workout with you. You could setup a group ride that did a certain number of kms up the Alpe, for example. Take an hour and do 2km efforts up the Alpe, coast back down, turn around, repeat. Vary the distance. Maybe even make it a casual competition. I think that could be a lot of fun.

Good luck :smiley:

Maybe reverse this frequency for a while and see what happens. The Zone 2 training (if done correctly) should help your cells develop to clear lactate more efficiently, thereby helping with longer and harder effort on the climbs.

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I agree with Nigel. Hilly crits are not going to be very helpful for improving performance on long climbs. You may need to take a break from frequent racing in order to focus more on longer efforts. If you’ve been doing that program for a while, it will probably do you good to simply train differently for a couple months. How long are the long zone 2 rides?

Ride more of the bigger hills so you adjust to them.

It can be done, I’ve seen in Haute Route a very tall German rider who was pretty fast uphill on the big French climbs (20km+ with 5-6%).

My own training for hills was a lot of 3x10, 4x10 and 3x15 and 2x30 at lower cadence. As you feel better you can shorten the recovery sections between each block.

In Zwift you could also ride Innsbruck climb a lot, or if you want to go all out Ven-top.

Ven-Top is horrible and my life was made worse by riding it. (:smiley:) In all seriousness, it currently is my least-favorite climb. Innsbruck is good, the Alpe giving you segments all the way up is very effective for motivation, the Surrey hills give a lot of variation, Makuri has a few nice medium length climbs.

Zone 2 stuff is great for climbing, but it also pays to mix in some harder efforts from time to time. It all depends on the workout, but you can varying effort even on the same climb. Z2 for a segment of the Alpe, then harder for the next segment, then back to Z2, etc. Training specificity is important. Although base-building work can help a lot too. The fastest 5k I ever ran was a month after my first IM, for which I had been doing zero speed training for a year.

ERG workouts such as Zwift workouts: Less than 60 minutes to burn » The Gorby | What's on Zwift? as part of your weekly schedule.

In freeride, ride Grand Central and hit all the ramps from the base to the reverse KOM banner hard (perhaps taking the level sections between them as brief respite), then recover on the descent with low z1/2 power, before a moderate effort back to the lap finish banner. Repeat for 2-4 laps.

Or for more fun and motivation, join something like the Zwift Insider Tiny Races on Saturdays (0900, 1500, 2100 GMT), four <15min races back to back within an hour. Great for pushing your z4/5 and improving your recovery from such efforts.

Sounds like we’re similar measurements (83kg with an FTP in the 3.0wkg range.)

Short answer is that we’re too heavy to ever really kill it on big hills in Cat C, as to get the same 3.5-4 wkg as the top C riders our watts would be so high so as to bump us up to category B. We just have to settle for having the advantage on the flats (arguable as that really is given drafting…)

That said, there are some things you can do to at least stay competitive.

  • First and foremost is cadence work. Learn how to put out the same watts at a higher cadence, as on the longer hills you need more aerobic power than anaerobic power. So spin up high at 90-100rpm in a higher gear than you use on the flat. Takes some getting used to but it will make a big difference for your ability to sustain high wkg.

  • Second is interval work; you need to train your body to be able to do 5+ minutes of extra hard while already depleted. Just doing the same thing over and over again in a Crit doesn’t help with this (speaking from experience.)

  • Third is simply knowing the course. Is it a 100m or 1km hill? Should you be aiming for 3 minutes of higher power or 10+? This is linked to #2, if you train for certain durations and you know the duration ahead of the hill starting, you know exactly what you need to do.

You should check out some of the 2022 Zwift Academy Road workouts, they were pretty good about providing purposeful training for things like the Volcano Climb (~10 minutes.) Not going to help you on the Alpe, but may give you some different perspective on your approach nonetheless. I’m still terrible on hills but I’ve gone from “laughingstock” to more “I can keep up with the pack on a medium sized KOM.” Good luck!

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Haha, the more you ride it the less horrible it will be. :slight_smile:

You don’t get any easy hairpins on it like ADZ. I know people who ride 300+ ADZ per year but mention Ven-Top and they protest. :wink:

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300+ ADZ - that’s addiction to gambling, isn’t it?


I got my Lightweights on ascent #2, so for me it’s just love of climbing :stuck_out_tongue:

Personally, I would not suggest this approach, as once you cross out of Z2 (from a Z2 lactate threshold POV, anyway) you move from working your lipolytic metabolism to the glycolytic metabolism. Once you cross that threshold it takes a while for your body to clear out of the byproducts from glycolysis and get back to being lipolytic again. I would recommend doing all of the Z2 on the front-end (at least an hour, but more if you have time) and then do the Z5 stuff at the end. (And then a bit of a cool down after that.)

Maybe that’s just me, though.


Sort of. I was part of that crazy challenge this year as well until I crashed IRL in mid March. I’ve got about 55 ADZ done if memory serves me right.

Doing all of those long hills helps - as soon as you go back to flatter courses on Zwift the small inclines feel like nothing.

The other benefit of ADZ once you have the wheels is you get the wheels nearly all the time afterwards when you do more ADZ, so it’s helpful in the race to get to level 60. :wink: For those of us with banked XP, we get double XP so the wheels are quite lucrative for XP bonus.

I’m saving the big Pretzel routes for when Level 60-70 is made available (I assume) then I can use the banked XP bonus with Mega Pretzel to get huge XP and beat everyone else to level 70. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

It’s just different workouts–you’re not wrong about the recovery time. I certainly wouldn’t replace long Z2 workouts entirely, but the ability to stabilize at a lower effort level after a hard effort is important. Particularly if you struggle at climbing, it has seemed to me that many Zwift races will end up looking like “Fight to keep up on the climb and then still need to maintain speed afterwards in the bunch”. Punchy, but then reduced effort if I managed to stay with the group. I find that replicating that in training helps. And by ‘harder’ I don’t mean ‘full gas’ :slight_smile: Just working on the ability to move out of Z2 for brief periods and then trying to drop back into it. But you’re right that long uninterrupted Z2 rides are great on their own.

Doing the Alpe currently is minimum Z3 for me - going any lower is too much grinding. I’m carefully including this in my training. Getting a different cassette to make Z2 rides possible is in consideration.
Up until recently I was on a 39-25 - not very comfortable on the Alpe. Mich improved already with a 36-30.

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You could just reduce your trainer difficulty rather than changing gearing.


Yes. But where is the fun in that :grinning: