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Memo to Heavy Breathers: You Can Tackle Uphill Rides Without Exhausting Yourself

Let’s be honest: The only place you should be doing a lot of heavy breathing is in the bedroom, not on uphill rides that make you wonder whether you’re aging faster than you hoped. After all, hills are daunting treks for cyclists, but if you ask legendary racers, it doesn’t have to be that way if you adopt commonsense practices. 

We’ve got tricks of the trade that you can implement immediately if you intend to reach new heights on your bike. You can probably think of more, and we’re all ears if you care to share them with us.

Tip# 1: Get rid of unnecessary weight

If you’re a stickler for semantics, it has probably dawned on you that this tip can be interpreted in two ways. Either stop loading down your bike with extras that turn your bike into an uphill burden or knock off some of the pounds that make sliding on your Spandex shorts become an exercise that closely resembles sausage stuffing.

That stated, losing pounds is always a good idea, whether you’re approaching hills or the equivalent of mountains. When cyclists asked Erin Beresini whether they should lose weight or buy a lighter bike, her response for readers was right on point.

Citing wind and gravity as the biggest forces facing cyclists, she advises, “When riding uphill at slower speeds, gravity takes over wind resistance as the main force you’ll fight. 

That means losing weight -— both bodyweight and bike weight — to improve performance,” because power-to-weight ratio (PWR) affects how fast you climb and how efficiently you breathe as you ascend heights.

To buy an affordable, lightweight road bike with a huge variety of gears is another great idea for those who live in hilly areas.”

Tip #2: Mind your cadence

Are you too embarrassed to admit that the definition of cadence eludes you? You’re not alone. 

Cadence, taken down to its simplest definition, is the work you do to regulate your pace so you speed up, improve posture, and reduce ground contact time. Does cadence matter? Runner’s World’s Ben Hobson doesn’t hesitate when he says yes.

Pay attention, and you’ll notice how “fast steps may increase the effort on your cardiovascular system (heart rate, breathing),” he explains. The onus is on you to become proficient at climbing, say USA Cycling Coaches writing for the organization’s website. 

“Comfortable cadence and rhythmic breathing are your two keys to success when going uphill. This will ensure that you’re managing both your aerobic and muscular energy output, which won’t leave you high and dry before you hit the hilltop or the end of your rides,” this expert recommends.

Do you know your climbing cadence? It can fluctuate across the spectrum of 65-90 RPMs, so if you’re somewhere in this range, there’s no reason why you can’t maintain a rhythmic breathing pattern that’s uniform rather than finding yourself panting faster than a laboring woman.

Tip #3: Start slow – finish fast

We turn to for advice on why starting slow and finishing fast is not just possible, but probable if you use this formula to achieve your goals, there’s not a single sport on the planet that can’t be improved, writes Jarred Salzwedel. By starting slowly, you set up a physical chain of events that impacts your energy levels.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but you dissipate your fuel source (fat) faster by starting slow. This “prepares” your body for the increase in the pace you intend to put forth as you climb, so by the time your virtual or real summit is in sight, you’re capable of what Salzwedel calls “going hard and giving everything.”

What happens if you don’t train sensibly, and you try to hit those hills at warp speed? For starters, you could get slower because both your mind and body feel too overwhelmed too quickly. 

You need to pedal at your threshold and above to get the speed gains, but you also need to put in the long riding hours that help you adjust your body and especially your breathing tempo, says Alain Devolder, writing for

Tip #4: Stop overthinking your climb

If you don’t maintain your focus as you take your cycle to higher ground, heavy breathing won’t be the only result of exertion, writes John Howard for Do you get distracted because you can’t see the top of the grade? Perhaps you stop breathing or come to the realization that your breathing has become so shallow, you can feel the result in both your head and your limbs.

Need a formula on which to depend so your mind maintains its focus and you don’t overthink your effort so dramatically that you screw up your breathing? 

Take this advice from 1984 Olympic road champion Alexi Grewel when you prepare to tackle that hill: Rather than allowing your respiratory system to fall back to its default setting by inhaling lots of air, change the way you breathe so you emphasize exhaling instead.

This technique requires you to blow air out aggressively and fill your lungs passively. By adopting this breathing pattern, say that folks at Road Bike Rider, this methodology, “gives you better air exchange. 

By emptying your lungs on each breath, they can take in more energy-producing oxygen,” and that’s one of your goals, right? Further, once you curtail the inefficient panting and learn to practice this technique, you’re going to be surprised by the results. The formula you want to master consists of “breathing out fully for two counts (pedal strokes) and then refill your lungs on the next two counts. It’s awkward. Frustrating. But once mastered, you’re going to thank us (and Alexi) for this invaluable tip.

And don’t make these mistakes.

-You take one look at the summit and dissolve into a complete panic. If you trained properly, your self-confidence will come to your rescue, so count on it to kick in, swallow hard, go forth and conquer.

-Don’t tackle a climb in one fell swoop. Break the ride into three legs, and if you need the formula to help you remember to do this, assign these labels to each of the three legs: Moderate, Tempo and “Hard as you can.” 

This helpful tip comes from wise woman Michelle Arthurs-Brennan writing for

-Don’t over-gear during your climb, or your breathing rate commitment could come to a crashing halt just at the moment you need that routine most. One of the ways to adjust your breathing gradually is to power up with mini 20-second climbs in high gear, but only “if you’re comfortable that you’ve got the energy to spare,” she says, adding that you should use these up at your risk if you have a long day ahead.

-Know the signs of hyperventilation and nip them in the bud as soon as you’re aware of the “feeling” that comes when you tighten up and realize that your heartbeat has accelerated. Says sports mental training clinic owner Josephine Perry, “Our brain’s reaction to [this physiological change] will be to slow down the body. This is clearly not what we want to be doing. So teaching our body to react well to situations like a climb [on the horizon] can be really beneficial.”

-This is no time to be fooling around with your eating and drinking rituals either, Arthurs-Brennan reminds her readers. “When approaching a tough climb, you want to be well fueled – but not to the point that you can feel the energy bar you ate about 20 seconds ago sitting in your gut.” But of course, that’s another article topic!