Preparing for Hills in a Triathlon
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Preparing for Hills in a Triathlon


A hilly triathlon can be a far different event than one held on a flat course. Climbing hills recruits different muscles and requires tremendous stamina. It’s a chore that must be paced in a unique fashion. Trying to conquer a hilly race with a pace normally used for a flat course will likely lead to muscle failure. Without proper hill training and pace tactics, even the shortest of triathlon distances can become a grueling challenge. This guide will explain how to conquer the hilliest of triathlon courses.

Race on Hills, Train on Hills

The best way to train for a triathlon is to replicate what will happen come race day. The first step should always be to check the event’s web site for the course map. If you find a map, look for the hills and climbs. Most course maps, especially those with drastic elevation changes, will feature an elevation chart of the race:

  • Tall climbs over a short distance will most likely be steep
  • A climb over a longer distance will most likely feature a gradual incline
  • Once you get an idea of the number of ascents and their incline, you can begin to train accordingly

Find a hill that closely resembles that of the race course. Once you’ve found your ideal hill, you can begin training.

Finding Variety

Training on the same hill or route doesn’t mean you have to complete the same workout day after day. Mix up the routine by changing the intensity levels or time intervals. Changing up intensity levels will provide muscle confusion, which is great for training your body to handle an unknown route. It will also provide a quick outlet for consistent progress.

When trying to replicate a race-like scenario, take the fatigue factor into account. Begin hill training with a quick upper- and lower-body workout to simulate the effort expended while swimming. Follow the workout with your hill training, be it on foot or bike:

  • A short workout could consist of some push-ups and pull-ups. The push-ups recruit the pectoral muscles, similar to swimming; the pull-ups replicate the pull from each swim stroke. Compliment the push-ups and pull-ups with some light lunges or squats to replicate lower-body recruitment.
  • If your hill training for the day is strictly running, you should place a greater emphasis on the legs when completing your full-body workout. Focus on the quadriceps and calves, the two major muscles utilized on the bike. All of this will make your legs feel fatigued when you begin your run, just as they would in a race after the first two events.
Hot Tip: What Goes Up...

A steep ride up hill generally leads to a steep ride down hill. Enjoy the rush of barreling down a hill on your bike. Move into your drop bars to reduce wind resistance and keep at least a couple fingers extended onto the breaks just in case you need to stop suddenly.

Hill training can and should be approached with a variety of tactics. For example, interval sprints up the hill will increase anaerobic capacity and help prepare the muscles for the intensity required to scale hills. Alternatively, a steady, consistent ride up the hills will help prepare you for the stamina and endurance required for the longer hill stretches. Both training techniques will also help improve your lactic threshold, which is essential for endurance events.

Hill-training Benefits

Training on hills has a variety of benefits, including increasing strength and endurance. Even if your race doesn’t require hill climbing, it’s still a good idea to train on hills for the added challenge. While cycling, the deep push on the crank with the quads and gluteus muscles will induce significant muscular fatigue. Running evokes the same results. Additionally, up-hill training helps strengthen the lower back more so than flat-course training.

From a mentality perspective, there is nothing more motivating and encouraging than climbing to the top of a hill. Overlooking the fantastic views and incredible scenery definitely helps take your mind off of the challenge of training. This not only helps keep you motivated, but it also helps keep your workouts fun and interesting. Avoiding monotony is a great way to remain consistent with training.

Head for the Hills

Hill-training is a great method for triathletes of all levels to utilize. It has numerous physical and mental benefits. Training on hills is a virtual must if you have an upcoming race that features elevation changes. Cycling and running on hills are different in regards to muscular and neuromuscular fatigue, so it’s best to head for the hills in both events!

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