Top mind hacks to keep you happy up hills

If you are out on a bike, sooner or later, you’re going to encounter a hill no matter what type of cycling you do. For some of us, climbing is an exciting part of the ride. For others, not so much. If you fall into the second category, cycling journalist Hannah Reynolds is here to help! Here’s 5 easy mental strategies that will help you learn how to love hills…

Photo by Alessandro Gallo

Breathe out…
Focusing on your breathing is an easy way to relax your body as well as making sure your muscles are getting the oxygen they need to power up the slope. When we start breathing shallowly and fast it sends signals to our brain that our body is under stress and in difficulty. Our shoulders tense up and our heart rate accelerates. You may think you are breathing faster because you need more air, but you may also be breathing faster because your mind is fearful or panicked by the climb ahead and is responding to your emotions.

Break the cycle by consciously slowing down your breathing rate and breathing more deeply. This will calm and relax both your body and your brain. Focusing on exhaling hard will help your next breath go fully to the bottom of your lungs. Concentrating on pushing the air out of your lungs also works to distract you from any negative thoughts about your climbing ability and discomfort you feel. Practice deep breathing exercises off the bike, yoga classes or meditation apps so that you are ready for your next big hill.

Photo by Ludovic Franco

The traditional climbing face of a racer is somewhere between a snarl and a gurn, its ugly, it speaks of suffering, but something as simple as smiling can help you climb better. The action of turning the corners of your mouth up in a smile helps to relax the muscles of your jaw and neck which also sends messages to your brain that you are calm, relaxed and in control – exactly how you want to feel whilst climbing up a hill. Research has even shown smiling is all you need to do to be happy. The added benefit of this technique is that everyone around you will you think you are super human as you smile your way up the climbs, barely registering any discomfort.

Photo by Lighttrapper Photography

Ride with others…
Skedaddle guides know that sometimes a bit of company can make all the difference and that hills appear easier when we aren’t on our own. Research published in 2008 agrees with us! Researchers looked at how our perception of a gradient changes when we are on our own compared with being with friends. They discovered that participants estimated the gradient of a hill as being less when they looked at it with a friend. If you find hills challenging don’t tackle them alone, buddy up with another rider and it will make the experience feel easier.

Photo by Lighttrapper Photography

Chunk it up…
As with any big task reducing a climb down to smaller sections can make it feel more manageable. For instance, pick a point further up the road, such as a tree, and focus on riding to that point. When you get there do something new, may be take a sip of water or ride out the saddle for five pedal strokes, then pick your next target. On long mountain climbs you may need to chunk it up in different ways. As well as setting yourself small goals for the sections that you can see you can also break down the climb by kilometre markers, every marker you pass have a couple of sweets (Skedaddlers love the  happy world of Haribo) or a sip or two of your water. Not only does this help you tackle the climb mentally it also ensures that you have the energy to get to the top!

Photo by Lighttrapper Photography

I love hills…
Hate hills? Rubbish at climbing? Too slow? If this what you are thinking as you approach a climb it’s time to change your tune. Talking negatively to ourselves can make us feel fearful, our body tenses up and we start to breathe more rapidly. We expect the climb to be difficult and we start expecting failure. Instead turn it on its head, “I love climbing”, “this is making me stronger” “I am feeling good”. It might not sound much but it works!

If you hate climbs, and tell yourself that repeatedly, you also start to avoid them and make excuses not to do them. You know the number one way to get better at climbing hills? Yes, it is climbing hills. Tell yourself you love climbs, seek them out on your rides, smile as you approach them and take a deep breath. Before long you really will love climbing.

Ready to take on the hills now ? Check out our full range of cycling holidays in UK, Europe and worldwide (hills vary, ask our team for ascent information).