Some cyclists have plenty of power for riding at a steady effort level, but for accelerations like the ones necessary on short, steep climbs, not so much. Unlike long, gradual ascents that let you settle into a rhythm, short, steep hills (often called power climbs) require you to quickly ramp up your effort at the bottom in order to avoid losing momentum and getting dropped. Power climbs are essentially accelerations: You're increasing your effort level, even if your speed drops on the way up.
A great way to improve your power for acceleration is to do strength training and high-torque efforts on the bike--in the same session (see the Acceleratory Power Workout, below). Cycling is a repetitive motion, and your body adapts to make this movement as economical as it can. That means using as little muscle as possible to deliver the power you're demanding. But to gain power for acceleration, you need to teach your body to activate more muscle, which is where strength training comes into play.
Exercises such as squats, lunges and step-ups can help increase muscle recruitment in your quadriceps, hamstrings and other muscles throughout the buttocks and hips. The point isn't to see how much weight you can push--you're not trying to gain huge amounts of muscle. Instead, do faster movements with low-to-moderate weight (or with your body weight offering the only resistance) that will train your nervous system to engage more of the muscle you already have, especially the fast-twitch fibers that don't get much attention during longer, sub-threshold cycling efforts.
Next, immediately apply that strength work to on-the-bike efforts. Performing high-torque efforts just after hitting the gym will help activate newly recruited muscle fibers when you're trying to accelerate on the road. Do the intervals outside or indoors on a stationary bike or trainer.
Do the following workout twice a week, with at least one rest day or endurance ride between sessions. Complete the strength part first. (For more exercise options, visit BICYCLING.com/gym.) This should take only about five minutes. You're not trying to stress the muscle into adapting; you just want to awaken the nervous system controlling the muscles. Then, on the bike, do short, high-resistance efforts, starting in a big gear at a very low speed.
ACCELERATORY POWER WORKOUT
STEP 1: SQUAT JUMPS
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms by your sides. Keeping your head and chest aligned (don't hunch your shoulders) and your eyes forward, sit back into a squat. Your weight should be evenly distributed along your feet. You can lower your hips anywhere from halfway down to the point where your thighs are parallel to the floor, but don't go any lower. Next, keeping your head and chest aligned, swing your arms over your head and jump as high as you can when your arms reach their highest point. Bend your knees upon landing and return to the starting position. Complete four sets of five jumps, with one minute of recovery between sets.
STEP 2: STOMPS
After a warm-up of at least 10 minutes, shift into a big gear and slow down to 8 to 10 mph. While seated and with your hands on top of the bar, stomp on the pedals and accelerate as fast as you can over 15 seconds. Focus on the downstroke, but remember to pull back through the bottom and push over the top of the stroke. Complete seven accelerations, with four minutes of easy spinning between each.