Everything you need to know to improve your Standing Pedaling

As you probably know I have some different views on mountain biking compared to most “experts”. From the value of flat pedals to the ridiculousness of spending hours on a road bike to improve your mountain bike conditioning I try to get riders to stop and think about things, if only for a second.

Standing pedaling is only a bad option if you don’t have the mobility, strength and endurance in the core, upper body and hips to sustain it.

Funny things happen when riders stop and think about things. Some of them start to realize that there may be more to the story than what they were told. The world of mountain biking is littered with myths, half-truths and outright lies and one of my goals is to help shed some light on what it really takes to improve your riding.

One area that I’ve talked about before but I think needs some special attention is Standing Pedaling. Most riders view Standing Pedaling as something to be avoided unless absolutely necessary.

They are told that they’ll tire themselves out too quickly and they think they need to sit down in order to weight the rear tire on climbs.

They end up shackling themselves to their seats, which really impedes their growth as a rider.

Once you understand that standing pedaling is better than seated pedaling in many ways and how you can incorporate it more into your riding you’ll never look at the trail the same way again. More riders are held back by this one myth than anything else on the trail. Break free of the seat shackle and you’ll have way more fun on the trail.


My wife and I standing up to enjoy some sweet singletrack.

To help dispel some of those myths and help more riders break free of seated pedaling I created this podcast where I go over all things standing pedaling. I’ll dispel the myths surrounding it and reveal…

– Why it can actually be easier on your knees to stand up while climbing.

– Why you have to stand up to execute skills properly.

– Why clipless pedals can make it harder to stand up.

– How to use standing and seated pedaling together over the course of a ride.

Download this episode (right click and save)

I also wanted to share 5 things you can do today to improve your Standing Pedaling. Just like anything else on your bike, it is a skill that you must understand and practice to improve.

5 Keys to Standing Pedaling

1 – Use your pedals to help support your weight. You can do this by using a gear that gives you some tension at the pedals. This is usually going to be a harder gear/ slower RPM than you would use when seated. You also do this by getting the ball of your foot in front of and not on top of your axle, which will allow you to achieve better balance and use your hips more efficiently.

2 – Use your upper body to stabilize/ support your body and to help add power to the pedal stroke. The better you can get your upper body into the right position and the more you can pull to add to the pedal stroke the easier standing pedaling will be.

3 – You want to simply drive hard with your lead leg i.e. mash your pedals and use your upper body to hold you up and keep you smooth. While you don’t need to stomp every bit of your weight into the pedals don’t try to “spin” circles or keep a “smooth” pedal stroke either. Just try to stay light on top of the bike using your upper body while keeping pressure on the pedals with good gear selection and foot placement.

4 – Know how to use your hips to get the most out of your traction. When traction is good then you want to push the hips forward, almost like you would fall forward and your bike is keeping you from hitting the ground. When traction is poor you want to sit your hips back over the rear tire to weight the rear while also keeping your shoulders over the front end to keep it down.

5 – Focus on your shoulder and upper back position and as it is the real weak link in the standing pedaling kinetic chain, not your legs or lungs. In other words, you can have the strongest legs and the best VO2max but if you can’t help maintain an optimal shoulder position and posture for standing pedaling then you’ll waste so much energy it won’t matter. This will be the hardest habit to overcome so it has to be on the top of your mind.

Last, I want to share this new video I shot this weekend showing you how to instantly improve your standing pedaling balance and traction by understanding how to best use your hips. Through the power of bad stick figure drawings I’ll show you exactly what to do when you stand up and when traction starts to get loose.

So there you have it, a blueprint for overcoming the weaknesses that keep you from easily standing and hammering out singletrack. Attack those weaknesses with a good training program and that is no longer an issue.

Standing pedaling is only a bad option if you don’t have the mobility, strength and endurance in the core, upper body and hips to sustain it.

Sure, you’ll have riders in your group tell you that you will tire yourself out quicker, you’ll just have to wait for them to hear what they were saying at the top of that steep hill you were killing them on.

So how about you? Have you heard this advice only to find out that it wasn’t true? Or do you have any questions about getting better at standing pedaling? Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

And if you liked this article please click one of the Like or Share buttons below to help spread the word to fellow riders who could benefit from the info.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

90 Day MTB Skills & Fitness Program

90 Day MTB Skills & Fitness ProgramLearn how to permanently fix the bad movement habits that are really keeping you from improving your mountain bike skills. It isn’t “bad technique” that’s stopping you from improving your mountain bike skills. This program will fix the real cause - bad movement habits you don’t even realize are holding you back on the trail. Improve your performance and safety on the trail in just 90 days with the only workouts designed to integrate mobility, strength and skills drills.
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  1. Eduardo says:

    Good article, but I missed something… In this stand position (steep and loose climbings), isn’t harder to maintain the front wheel on the ground ? How do I do it ?

    Reply • March 10 at 1:02 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Check the video on the bottom of the post, it shows you how to position your hips depending on the terrain to best maintain traction and weight on the tires.

      Reply • March 11 at 10:54 am
  2. Cisco says:

    Very nice one I was out in a park today with nice climbs and really forced myself to stand up and learn it the right way …. also practised my curving as shown in your videos…ehm that needs more practise though ha – thanks for all you do to make us better riders


    Reply • March 11 at 5:05 am
  3. Casey says:

    Good article. I totally agree. Two things you overlooked;

    1) If you’re going to stand, you need to lock your front fork (if your fork allows you to do that). If you don’t, most if not all of your body’s energy is going to be lost when the fork compresses during your downstroke.

    2) A discussion on appropriate gear to use would be beneficial. Obviously, the “granny gear” is too easy. Yet, the larger front and rear sprockets are too hard. Somewhere in between is a “sweet spot.” How do you determine that?

    Reply • March 11 at 8:04 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Thanks for the comments, although I would respectively disagree about point number 1 as I would rather have my suspension active and able to help roll over stuff more efficiently. If you are on a road or fire road I would totally agree with the point about the compression robbing efficiency but on the trail I never lock out as the ability to absorb impacts outweighs the slight loss from the “bob”.

      As far as gearing, a lot depends on your strength levels. The stronger you are the harder gear you can turn over so that will change from rider to rider. In general you want a moderate gear that has some tension on the pedals as this helps you stand up and lends itself better to the high torque situations you run into on the trail like having to get back up to speed after a half-pedal to miss a rock or a blown corner.

      Reply • March 11 at 10:59 am
  4. Neil says:

    Great article James- as always.
    “A true mtb guru”

    Cheers mate!

    Reply • May 3 at 12:38 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Thanks, glad you liked it.

      Reply • May 3 at 8:42 am
  5. Shaun says:

    Great article as always James. I generally ride a ridged singlespeed so stand-up-pedaling is a big part of the technique used. I feel my ability to read the trails and plan the attacks has greatly improved but what would you recommend as the three best training exercises?
    Turkish Get Up
    Kettlebell Swing
    I’m always confused with choice as there are so many to choose from.
    Many thanks in advance.

    Reply • December 26 at 3:30 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Every program is going to be a compromise and that is why you need to have some sort of plan. The exercises you listed are definitely at the top of my list but if they were all you did then you would have some holes in your program. I try to get a push, pull, squatting, deadlifting and some sort of loaded carry exercise in every time I train while you can get great results from a minimalist program, a more well rounded program would be better.

      And yes, it can get confusing. There is no “perfect” routine so the best you can do is pick something, see it through, assess how it worked for you and then repeat the process. Hope this helps.

      Reply • December 29 at 10:21 am
  6. Cor Grobler says:

    Three years ago, at age 64 I took up cycling again after many years of inactivity. My MTB was my first ever experience of riding a bike with gears and obviously I feel and act like a school boy with a new toy. I ride mostly on city streets. I quickly realised that the MTB technique was completely different from riding my old single speed bike to school and back in the 1960’s. We live in a hilly area and climbing was a serious problem. I recently read your advices on peddling while standing and particularly the tecnique of doing it. I have now gone on the road with my MTB following your advice – what a marvelous improvement. Thank you.

    Reply • May 7 at 9:41 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Thanks for the feedback, glad the advice is working for you.

      Reply • May 8 at 8:01 am
  7. James Nelson says:

    If we stand pedal more, do we need a higher handlebar? I have been working on what you recommend but often find I wish my bars were higher and I actually even rest my hands on top of my grips so they can be higher. Is that from bad technique, like maybe I need more of that sprinter posture you said? Or do we need a riser bar when we adopt standing pedaling?

    Reply • May 6 at 9:29 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      No, your handlebars shouldn’t need to come up unless they were really low to begin with. If anything you want to make sure you have a 60 mm stem or smaller, longer stems make standing up more awkward. You may need to shift your weight forward more which can take some getting used to. You can and should change your hand position as well, moving the palms more on top of the bars. It may take a month or more of practice to get the technique down but it will feel more natural without having to change your bike set up.

      Reply • May 7 at 12:37 pm
  8. Manuel says:

    Do you recommend to use a handlebar height lower than the saddle height like in road cycling for standing pedaling?

    Reply • May 10 at 2:11 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      No, I like to have my seat down a lot so the seat position isn’t really important. If anything, having your seat lowered and out of the way will help make standing pedaling easier.

      Reply • June 1 at 12:08 pm
  9. Albert T. says:

    Hi James, do you mean this could be a default climbing method, or only for shorter and more powerful bursts?

    I try to pedal seated in the aerobic* heart rate zone which I find very comfortable and sustainable.

    When pedaling standing at a decent cadence, currently I find my heart rate goes at least 20 beats higher, and it becomes an “anaerobic” workout. I can’t sustain such pedaling without seated breaks, the overall ride feels much more intense, and I need longer recovery afterwards.

    (*as per Maffetone method; 180 beats minus Age)

    Reply • August 13 at 8:50 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      What I recommend is using standing pedaling for your high tension/ hard efforts and then you can sit down to recover. Avoid using seated high tension pedaling efforts. The more you stand up the better you will get at it and the easier it will be so you can’t predict what it will feel like in 6 months based on what it feels like today.

      Reply • August 13 at 9:24 am
      • Albert T. says:

        Hi, thanks for the reply, now it makes sense.
        BTW. do you think it’s possible (after enough practice) to do standing pedaling on a climb while remaining in the aerobic intensity zone? That would be awesome…

        Reply • August 21 at 6:03 am
        • bikejames bikejames says:

          You can certainly get closer but there will always be efforts that take you out of it. You can check out this post where I go over a video someone did testing the aerobic efficiency of standing vs. seated pedaling to get a better idea of how the body reacts and how you can use it to your advantage.

          Reply • August 21 at 12:51 pm

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