Categories: Bicycle Tour Training

Training for Hills When You Don’t Have Any

by Sarah Awe - Wednesday, April 2, 2014 Cycling in Argentina and Chile with ExperiencePlus!

You have an exciting Experience Plus! Bicycle tour of Chile and Argentina to look forward to!  You are visualizing the beautiful Cardenal Samore Pass with inviting thermal pools waiting for you at the end of tour Day 4. You are feeling fantastic and amazing about this trip but, wait!  You’re from Kansas that is literally flatter than a pancake (it’s true, it’s been scientifically proven), or from Florida where at times you are below sea level. Now what?  Seems to me you have two options. The first is to meet your friends in Agentina, take the support van over Cardenal Samore Pass where you rendezvous with your friends in the thermal pools in Chile after they’ve triumphantly made it over on their own OR two, you can commit to putting in the time and effort prior to your trip and be ready to love every second of your ascent over the pass. Considering you signed up for this trip on your own, I am wagering that you are ready to put in a little work.  Training for a physical end goal can be one of the most fulfilling and satisfying things you can do.  You can really focus on your fitness and have clear intent each time you get out on your bike.

If you do not have the luxury of having hills in your backyard, it is still possible to train as though you do. Interval training will be your best friend, spin classes and an indoor bicycle trainer will come in handy when you cannot get outside.  Adding some strength training to your regimen will also serve to help you get stronger and hopefully keep injury at bay.


One of the best things about interval training is that it is like a concentrated workout – you get a lot of bang for your buck, time-wise. A short, intense interval workout can deliver greater gains than a longer, moderate workout.  That being said, it is not advised to do intervals every time you go out for a ride; one or two times a week will suffice. Any more than that and you risk injury and over-training. You can do intervals on the road or indoors on your trainer, and thankfully an effective plan can be designed in a myriad different ways, ensuring that boredom is never an issue. I would recommend sticking with one type of interval for a couple weeks before switching to a new type of interval. Allow yourself to get really good at it, then make a change so your body has to adapt to something new. I like to use the RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) scale from 1-10 to determine effort.  1 is so easy you could do it all day and 10 is so difficult you can only maintain this effort for a few seconds. When the RPE is higher, shift into a harder gear and push yourself.  Remember – you get out of these workouts what you put into them, so if you cheat or slack you’re only cheating yourself!  Think about both the upstroke and down stroke so you are recruiting all of your leg muscles.  Imagine yourself climbing a hill!  Be sure not to skip the cool-down, it is important your heart rate returns to a comfortable rate before stopping exercise.


Warm up: 10 minutes at RPE 4-5

1 minute at RPE 7

2 minutes at RPE 5

Repeat 5-7 times.

Cooldown: 10-15 minutes at RPE 4-5


Warm up: 10 minutes at RPE 4-5

20 seconds at RPE 8-9

10 seconds at RPE 2

Repeat 8 times

Repeat 2-3 times

Cooldown: 10-15 minutes at RPE 4-5

If you don’t feel comfortable doing intervals on your own, spin classes are often a good option.  There you will most likely get some interval training and you can work on your cadence in a controlled environment (i.e., no wind, comfortable temperatures, no traffic).  Another useful tool is using your indoor trainer along with the aid of a video guide.  There are many video programs out there that will give you a great interval workout and offer great tips along the way.


If Interval training will improve your fitness, what will improve your interval training?  Strength training. Strength training has so many benefits that I could write pages and pages, but I’ll limit it just to cycling. Cyclists spend lots of time above the ground in the saddle which means they are losing out on the benefits of weight bearing exercise.  Strength training in the right way will keep your lumbar spine healthy and your core muscles strong.  Adding in two – 30 minute sessions of full body strength training could help your performance out immensely.

A simple full body workout:

squat15 Squats




pushup15 Pushups




plank3-6, 10 second plank intervals (hold plank for 10 sec, rest for 10 sec, plank for 10 sec, rest for 10 sec, etc)



lunge24 Lunges




rows15 Rows



3-6, 10 second plank intervals


single leg deadlifts10 Straight leg deadlifts



reverse fly15 Reverse flys



3-6, 10 second plank intervals


Repeat: 2-3 times

Bottom line:  Enjoy your training!  Incorporating intervals and strength training into your program will only help improve your overall fitness and exercise tolerance.  As usual, listen to your body, keep hydrated and stay safe!


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Sarah Awe - Sarah Awe: As owner and personal trainer at becomefit ( Sarah is able to put into practice her experience and education surrounding health and fitness. She graduated from Florida Tech with a BS in Psychology and from Southern Arkansas University with a MS in Kinesiology. She is also certified by the NSCA as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. Sarah believes that living a healthy, balanced lifestyle is a key to success! You can email Sarah at:

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