Cycling Plus’s trio of riders get serious with their hill climb training

Hannah, John and Ade focus their Zwift training on climbing Mount Teide

This is a sponsored article in association with Zwift


When turbo training for rides in the hills or mountains, there’s more to think about than body weight and watts/kg.

“When riding uphill, in the real world, your front wheel is higher than your back, which forces your glutes and hamstrings to be recruited more than when you ride on the flat,” says Matt Rowe, of Rowe & King Cycle Coaching.

While most turbos don’t reflect this, you can replicate it indoors, he says, by putting a block or book under your front wheel.

If you’ve got the money and are more tech minded, you could try Wahoo’s new KICKR Climb. “With Zwift and smart trainers, you’ve got genuine alternatives to climbing in the real world,” says Matt.

To prove his point, Dani Rowe — also of of Rowe & King Cycle Coaching and a pro rider — turned down the opportunity to recce this year’s Innsbruck-Tirol World Championship, and instead train on the virtual course on Zwift, using Wahoo’s Climb.

“I told her she had almost the same thing in her garage. Factoring all the travel and disruption to her training, it was better for her to stay at home.”

Climbing challenge

Our riders have their own date with the mountains this autumn, with one of Europe’s longest climbs lurking. With that in mind, we asked Matt for three hill climbing sessions, doable on Zwift and in the real world.

Now that all three of our riders know their Functional Threshold Power, training in specific zones can be put into practice.

Training Zones explained

Your training zones are the varying intensities that define any workout, using percentages of your FTP, the highest average power you can sustain for an hour.

  • Zone 1: (recovery) <55% FTP
  • Zone 2: (base endurance) 56-75% FTP
  • Zone 3: (tempo) 76-90% FTP
  • Zone 4: (lactate threshold) 91-105%
  • Zone 5: (race tempo) 106-120% FTP
  • Zone 6: (max effort) > 121% FTP

“For all these sessions, I’d aim for a cadence of around 75 revolutions per minute,” says Matt. “Session one, we’re looking at ‘sweet spot’ training, or the bottom end of training zone 3 [tempo, 76–90 percent FTP — you’ll have to concentrate to maintain it and conversation will be in short sentences].

“For Mt Teide, most of the time you’re going to be riding in this zone, so that should be reflected in your training too. Warm up for 10 minutes, then do 3×15 minutes in zone 3, with five minutes in zone 1 [recovery, <55 percent FTP] in between each block, followed by a five-minute cool-down to finish.

Zwift also has a custom workout option that makes it easy to build sessions like these yourself

“For session two, we want to go over your FTP. If you can nudge your threshold up, riding sub-threshold, as you will be on Mt Teide, it will become easier. We call this session ‘over/under’. Do a 10-minute warm-up, then 2×21-minute blocks of over/under — so that’s one minute at 105 percent, then two minutes at 95 percent FTP, repeated seven times. Between each block, take eight minutes easy, with a five-minute cool-down to finish.”

For session three, Matt wants us to increase the intensity even further, causing our body to produce lactate. Lactate inhibits performance when the body’s ability to clear it falls behind its production, so this session helps your body to raise the bar.

“We call these capacity efforts,” says Matt. “Do three intervals of six, eight and 12-minute capacity efforts. Each effort should be the highest power you can average, stressing the body to the max. It’s a really tough session, one you need to be mentally prepared for.”

Each week, he says, you should be doing two out of these three sessions, surrounded by more voluminous training outdoors.

While Zwift is packed with ready-to-ride workouts, many of which can improve climbing ability, it also has a custom workout option that makes it easy to build sessions like these yourself.

Hannah Rowe

Hannah Rowe
Hannah Rowe
David Caudery/Immediate Media
  • Watts: 135
  • Zwift Level: 06
  • Age: 32

“With the cold, wet weather coming in fast, and a busy social calendar, I’ve struggled to squeeze substantial outdoor rides in this month. Thank goodness for Zwift, then, which has kept my training on track.

“On the occasions I’ve been able to get out on the road, I’m noticeably feeling the benefits of my Zwift sessions — my usual hills close to home don’t sting as much as they once did and fatigue is slower to set in.

“Zwift has meant a quality over quantity training approach, which fits my lifestyle well and I have a love/hate relationship with the over/under session Matt describes above — it hurts a lot, but it’s really paying off.”

John Whitney

John Whitney
John Whitney
David Caudery/Immediate Media
  • Watts: 262
  • Zwift Level: 07
  • Age: 34

“Since signing up to Zwift I’ve been hunting XP points in search of new bikes, tech and courses. It takes an increasing number of points to move between levels as you rise, so after gobbling through levels early on, I’ve gained a solitary level since last issue.

“This unlocked the steel bike, which, sadly, won’t make me any faster on Zwift’s mountains. Unlocking routes is where the real interest is, and I’m eager to get to level 12 as soon as I can, where I’ll unlock Alpe du Zwift, the 21-hairpinned climb modelled on Alpe d’Huez. I mean, I could ride it by latching onto a group ride, but that would feel like less of an achievement.”

Adrian Miles

Adrian Miles
Adrian Miles
David Caudery/Immediate Media
  • Watts: 288
  • Zwift Level: 25
  • Age: 38

“I got to put my Zwift training to the test at my first gran fondo of the year, Austria’s Ötztaler Radmarathon: 230km and 5,000m of madness.

“Aside from the obvious endurance aspect, Zwift has helped my form on two fronts. Firstly, I have been trying to climb out of the saddle for longer durations. On longer climbs being able to mix up my position on the bike has several benefits, in particular taking pressure off the muscles that endure most stress when climbing seated.


“Secondly, I’ve also noticed a huge improvement on more gradual climbs. For the next phase of my training, I’m focusing on getting some extra speed into my legs when the gradients tip above 8 percent.”