Workout of the Week: Hit ‘Em Hard Hill Reps

They're not easy, but hit these explosive hill reps hard to boost your anaerobic power and pedaling efficiency.

Workout of the Week: Hit 'Em Hard Hill Reps
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While these are “only” 30-second sprints, done right they are demanding and will leave you gasping for air and feeling like a noodle. Like most workouts, this one serves a multitude of purposes: I like to think of these sprints as plyometrics on the bike, an explosive effort to train the ability to get force quickly and efficiently into the pedals. They train your anaerobic power and rely on the glycolytic energy pathway. These intervals also train your ability to develop mental focus to drive your physical effort and dig deeper than you thought you could. In short, you’re getting a lot from some focused, high-intensity work.

Optimal and over-geared cadence work

After a thorough warm-up, the main set involves three rounds of three 30-second hill reps where you’ll be working at a variety of cadences ranging from “optimal” (i.e., your preferred cadence) to slightly over-geared to heavily over-geared. These 30-second intervals should all be out-of-the-saddle sprints.

If you are new to cycling, out-of-the-saddle sprinting/climbing is a skill that needs to be developed. Like any skill, it is most effective to learn the movement by initially doing it at a lower intensity to nail the ability to hold your body and coordinate the movement. As a beginner be patient and take the time to establish a good foundation of efficient movement patterns and then slowly add energy/power to the movement.

A powerful sprint starts with stabilizing through your body by establishing and holding a neutral pelvis and spine to reduce energy leaks and create a stable platform to drive power more effectively into the pedals. Also, before you initiate the sprint, think about setting yourself up with good deep belly breathing.

Focus your attention

While many of us love to stare at power numbers, I suggest the majority of your attention on these sprints should focus on actions like fine-tuning your body position over the bike, and coordination of upper/lower body movements to experiment and learn what makes you most powerful and most efficient during these sprints. Also think about how you pace the sprint: You want to be snappy and explosive on the start but also be able to maintain that power over the duration of the 30 seconds.

The goal is to start the first sprint strong and finish the last sprint in the workout as strong or stronger than the first. As I mentioned, I prefer your full attention is on fine-tuning your actions, but you can glance down at your power meter to use it as a guide to hit or exceed that benchmark power of the first sprint. Did the actions you implemented in that sprint allow you to get more power into the pedals or not? You can keep fine-tuning what you are doing in the sprints based on this feedback.

As you increase the resistance through the set of sprints, it tests your ability to stabilize through your body and make good upper/lower body coordinated movements versus just wrestling the bike to turn over the pedals.

Location, location, location

I have found one of the keys to successful workouts is finding locations to accommodate the specific requirements of the workout. Once you find the one or two places to accommodate the workout, you know exactly what to expect and that lends to a higher quality workout. For these sprints you want to find an approximate 8%, 30-second hill that you can somewhat soft pedal/coast into with some momentum so your legs are not totally loaded (e.g., having to pedal on a false flat into the base) upon starting your sprint.

Workout of the Week: Hit ‘Em Hard Hill Reps


15-20 min. riding along flat to rolling terrain @ 56-75% of FTP
4 x 5 min. @ 88-94% of FTP with 1 min. @ 56-75% of FTP

Main set

3 rounds of (3 x 30 sec. @ 121-150% FTP) as:

#1  your optimal/preferred gearing

#2 slightly over-geared

#3 heavily over-geared

Rest 3 min. @ <55% of FTP between sprints. Take 5 min. @ <55% of FTP between sets


10 min. @ 56-75% of FTP @ 90-110rpm