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Uphill or Flat: Which Makes You a Stronger Cyclist?

We have all heard the phrase — A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.

Uphill or Flat: Which Makes You a Stronger Cyclist?
Written by Editorial

We have all heard the phrase — A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor. 

Now, let us relate this to our cycling community. Not everyone cycles for the same purpose, but the desired goal is to get fit. 

And likewise, A stronger ‘YOU’ is possible with cycling, but how?

Getting stronger is related to putting your body i.e., muscles under stress while pedaling. Your body is not accustomed to this stress, so what does it do?

With adequate nutrition and rest, your body adapts itself to meet the new stress levels. And this is how you grow stronger.

Now, we know how to get stronger, what next? Do we hop on our cycles and glide through the busy streets or uphill the nearest hillock?

First, let us understand the difference between riding uphill and on a flat surface.

Recruitment of muscles

Your body reacts differently to cycling on a road and a hill. During the ride, various muscles are recruited. For example, Quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, etc. 

When cycling on a road, your body is in a fairly comfortable position and muscles slightly feel the movement. However, while riding uphill, your core and abdominals are constantly engaged. Your body is under additional stress while riding on an elevated slope. 

Opposing forces

Usually, cyclists face two forces while riding — gravity and air resistance. Gliding through these forces sets the cyclist for a seamless ride. 

On a road, both of these forces impact the cyclist marginally. However, when riding uphill, gravity acts against the rider. Simple, you can stop cycling on a road and stand still, can you do the same on a slope? No. 

This is another reason why riding uphill is tougher. 

Energy efficiency

A cyclist exerts more energy when riding uphill. Why?

Riding slowly up the hill is not easy. The chances of the bicycle falling to the side is high.

Therefore, the rider has to pedal faster leading to an exertion of substantial energy. Alongside, more muscles are being recruited, hence accumulation of fatigue is quicker. This equates to getting exhausted easily and the need for more rest.

All three reasons show you why riding uphill is tougher than riding on a flat road. So, can we conclude that riding on roads is the best way to get strong? NO.

Remember the phrase — A smooth sea never made a skilled sailorSimilarly, cycling only on flat roads implies you are leaving a lot of strength gains on the table. 

What do you gain by riding uphill?

Strengthens the posterior chain 

Cycling on elevated slopes engages the entire posterior chain of the rider. From the trapezoids to the hamstrings, the back is in constant tension. 

And if you belong to cycling communities like Spoke Herd, climbing is regular. This means more stimulation and better strength and muscle gains.

Mind-muscle connection

While climbing, maintaining a cadence is of extreme importance. The consistency in pedaling also helps in building a mind-muscle connection. 

This benefits the rider by reducing the risk of injury. With a quality mind-muscle connection, muscles are activated correctly and are utilized efficiently for the ride. 

Enhances core stability

On an uphill ride, the core muscles are crucial. The lower back, obliques, and abdominals are tightened during the ride. 

This enhances the stability of the rider by strengthening the core muscles. 

A strong core means enhanced stamina and endurance for a cyclist. So, they can ride for longer periods with minimal rest.

Cardiovascular benefits

An uphill ride is a full-body activity. With multiple muscle groups acting together, there is a constant need for oxygen and necessary nutrients. To the rescue is the heart that works harder to supply oxygen, nutrients, and also maintain the body temperature. 

The heart rate during an uphill ride can easily be 30-40 bpm higher than when riding on a flat road. All these efforts strengthen the heart muscles to an unimaginable extent. 


Riding on a hill is a sure way to ideal strength levels for any individual. Though it is physically taxing, the benefits overwhelm the efforts. If you are new to climbing, we advise you to join a cycling community. Like Spoke Herd, cycling enthusiasts ride together and are perfect for you to learn the intricate details of climbing. 

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