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Sample Class: Reaching the Summit!

Who doesn’t love a hill? If you want to add interest and attention to your next cycling class, make climbing your focus. The thrill of a hill can be any combination of challenging climbs and fast, fun downhills. The goal: to reach the summit!

This class simulates the accelerating demands of intense climbs and exhilarating downhills. In the indoor cycling environment, seated and standing climbs add intensity, while downhills provide speed and recovery. The important and sometimes necessary break often comes from lifting out of the saddle.

Class Details: Thrill of the Hill

RIDE PROFILE: a challenging climbing terrain

TOTAL TIME: 1 hour

EQUIPMENT: indoor cycles

MUSIC: midtempo (~130–135 beats per minute)

INTENSITY: moderate to hard rating of perceived exertion during the work phases (Zones 3–5)

CADENCE: 60–90 revolutions per minute (rpm) during the climbing phases

RECOVERY: between drills, if needed

ADDITIONAL NOTES: Prior to the first hill, give technique instructions for successful climbing:

  • Keep the hands relaxed on the handlebars, in the “extended” position (while standing).
  • Move the torso slightly forward to engage the gluteals and leg muscles.
  • Keep the upper body “quiet,” but not completely still (cue a natural body sway).
  • Activate the core.
  • When lifting off the saddle, move the hips over the pedals for power. Maintain light contact with the seat.
  • Drill 1: Warm-Up (6–8 minutes)

    Focus on proper riding technique. Keep the cadence at 80–95 rpm at a self-selected, easy gear. Include three random 1-minute pickups at 100 rpm. In the latter stage of the warm-up, shift toward moderate intensity.

    “Can you feel your legs activated in both the ‘down’ and ‘up’ phases of the pedal stroke during the pickups?”

    Drill 2: Steady Incline (4–5 minutes)

    Gradually increase effort from a flat road to a slight incline. Each minute, add one or two gears. Imagine the road is getting progressively steeper as the headwind gets stronger. More effort is required at this stage.

    Cue: “Can you shift slightly back in the saddle to adjust for the increasing incline?”

    Drill 3: Rolling Hills (6–7 minutes)

    Focus on strong builds and short recoveries. Hill cadence remains at 60–90 rpm. Start in a standing climb at 65 rpm for 30 seconds. Return to the saddle without adjusting the gear, and increase the cadence to approximately 80+ rpm for 30 seconds. Reduce the gear by half, and ride the downhill for 30 seconds at a steady pace. Repeat for 3–4 sets.

    Cue: “Do you notice how power (work output) intensifies when pedal speed increases at the same gear?”

    Drill 4: Steep Hill Climb (4–5 minutes)

    In this steep hill climb, start in the saddle at a challenging gear for approximately 1 minute. Change to a slightly higher gear and quickly “accelerate” up the hill by lifting out of the saddle and “attacking” the climb. Add progressive attacks lasting 10, 15 and 20 seconds, respectively. Start with a 50-second seated climb and a 10-second standing attack; then do a 45-second seated climb and a 15-second attack; then a 40-second climb and a 20-second attack. Try to return to the same gear or power level for each push.

    “During the attacks, do you notice your gear and cadence when you’re working outside your comfort zone?”

    Drill 5: Downhill (3–4 minutes)

    Present two options when approaching a steep descent: “Coast” the downhill or “ride” it. Gradually increase resistance and use the acceleration component to your advantage by adding gears. Let the cadence change from 110 to 105 to 100 rpm as you race and ride down the hill.

    Cue: “How far can you travel during this short downhill?”

    Drill 6: Switchbacks (6–7 minutes)

    Switchbacks are an ideal visualization drill. Include steady climbing with attacks around each corner to create an imaginary “slingshot” effect. Start in a seated climb and then accelerate around each bend by transitioning to a standing climb. Next, maintain the effort but sit down and decrease the gear to keep the momentum going. Each switchback consists of a 45-second seated climb; a 15-second burst out of the saddle and around the corner; 10 seconds of momentum building; and a seated recovery at an easier gear. Repeat for 5–6 sets, increasing gears on each tier.

    Cue: “Can you hammer on the pedals for each 15-second attack around the corner?”

    Drill 7: Hill Repeats (5–6 minutes)

    Determine optimal climbing speeds by trying different cadences on each hill. Use a 2:1 ratio of incline to decline. For example, if the climb is 30 seconds, the downhill is 15 seconds. In addition, mix up both the intensity and the cadence. Try a slow, heavy climb with a fast, light decline; or go for a fast, light climb with a slow, heavy decline.

    Cue: “Can you focus on keeping the gear consistent on all climbs, regardless of the duration?”

    Drill 8: Sustained Climb (5–6 minutes)

    The last climb is all about mental focus. Because climbing outdoors requires some strategy, ask participants to reflect on how far they’ve come and how close they are to reaching the imaginary peak. In this drill, ask participants to self-select a starting gear and keep their cadence at the same rpm for the entire drill. Focus on a steady seated climb with a one-gear increase every 30 seconds. The point at which riders can no longer hold their cadence is when to stop adding gears; however, continue to push to the top. Stay within a small range of power nearing the apex. Finish with an all-out peak power attack.

    Cue: “Can you make the final push to the top?”

    Drill 9: Downhill (3–4 minutes)

    In this final sprint scenario, arrange riders into teams. Ask each group to lead for approximately 20–30 seconds down the hill. End with an individual 90-second flat-road attack to the finish line.

    Cue: “Can you visualize accelerating down the hill with your teammates?”

    Drill 10: Cool-Down and Stretch (6–8 minutes)

    Use the cool-down to reflect on the ride as a whole. Note average cadence, power, heart rate and distance data, if available. Ask participants how they felt and if they found this ride more challenging than others. Come off the bike for a final stretch.

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