How to get better traction when standing up to climb than you can get sitting down.

Yesterday I went for a ride with my trusty trail mutt Aka and my riding buddy Pete. We hit Butter Knife, which is a super fun trail with some of the best single track in this area. It is technically challenging and it ends with a 45+ minute ride back up a jeep road to the car, which makes it a good test of your skills and fitness.

This doesn’t mean that standing pedaling doesn’t have the potential for great traction, simply that you have to learn how to tap into it.

Pete is a really good rider who I’ve worked with on and off for several years and shares a lot of my views on mountain biking. He rides flat pedals and stands up a lot to climb and after our ride we started talking about physics and philosophy of standing pedaling.

One of the things we talked about was the sensation of using our hands and wrist position to help us “wedge” ourselves down into our pedals. This wedging sensation is extremely important because it not only gives you the platform you need to get a strong pedal stroke but it also puts pressure down into the tire, giving you better traction as well.

Without that wedging sensation your platform for pressing down into the pedals is weak and your rear wheel doesn’t have very good traction. This doesn’t mean that standing pedaling doesn’t have the potential for great traction, simply that you have to learn how to tap into it.

In fact, I’m no longer willing to concede that you ever need to sit down for traction – you may be too tired to hold it but if you have the right body position and can wedge yourself down into your pedals you can get all the traction you need no matter how steep and loose something is.

I’ve already pointed out how sitting down when climbing doesn’t actually put weight on the rear tire so that isn’t what is giving you the extra traction anyways. I think it is actually the wedging of your prostate into the seat that gives you the extra traction you feel when seated, which isn’t the best thing to do to your prostate (or your privates either ladies).

If you can learn to effectively wedge yourself into your pedals with your hands and not your groin you can gain the traction you need without the damage to your sensitive bits.

But again we get into the fundamental issue of movement and core strength. This wedging sensation is the same thing you learn from a proper deadift, which means that you need to be able to get into a good deadlift – a.k.a. hip hinge – position and you need the core and hip strength to lift some weight.

If you can’t get off the bike and do it I guarantee you that you will have trouble doing it on the bike. This doesn’t mean it can’t be done, simply that you may lack the fundamental movement and strength needed to do it.

The point we both arrived at was that standing pedaling is pretty much completely misunderstood and misapplied by most mountain bikers. Standing up to lay down power and sitting down to recover for your next standing effort is better for your body and opens up a new way of riding that taps into your body’s own natural movement and strengths.

On a side note, I’ve noticed a pattern when talking to riders about getting faster. They note that the faster riders tend to stand more but they haven’t made the connection yet – they aren’t faster and they stand up more, they are faster because they stand up more. Standing up is faster and if you want to get faster learn to stand up more.

So, to help you get started on applying this wedging sensation to your riding make sure you watch this video on how to deadlift and pay attention to the set up before I actually lift the bar. You’ll notice how I wedge myself under the bar right before I lift it and that is exactly the sensation you want to apply to you standing pedaling when you really need to lay down power or get extra traction on a steep climb.

Please note that you will need good hip mobility to get your hips back when you need them on steep climbs so it is a combination of mobility, specific core strength and skill that you need to develop. The trade off will be more speed, traction and fun while also sparing your privates from getting smashed.

And yes, I know I need to shoot a video. Next time Pete and I are out riding I’ll be sure to get some video of this in action with some more tips on how to apply it.

Hope this at least gives you some food for thought. I think that there is a lot more going on with standing pedaling than most people have been told and until you know how to tap into some of these things you’ll continue to use your seatpost as a crutch.

If you have any thoughts or comments on this please leave a comment below this post, I’d love to hear them. And if you liked this post please click one of the Like or Share buttons below to help spread the word.

BTW, Besides being tough on your prostate and groin I also strongly believe that too much seated pedaling is behind the epidemic of low back pain we see in mountain biking. Riders spend more money on bikes and bike fits than ever before and yet just as many riders as ever seem to suffer from low back pain.

On Monday I’ll be releasing a simple 30 day program designed to target the real mobility, movement and skill issues behind low back pain from mountain biking. It is based on the same principles I have used to help both myself and hundreds of other riders overcome low back stiffness, soreness and pain caused by long hours on the trail.

If you have low back pain then you’ll want to be sure to catch Monday’s newsletter where I’ll post a video explaining more about these underlying causes and how to fix them, plus info on how you can get a copy of the new MTB 30 Day Low Back Pain Program.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

90 Day MTB Skills & Fitness Program

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  1. Rob S says:

    I just got done explaining this to a friend while on a trail out here in Chico, CA. I used rollers into step-up rock walls as a demonstration, but, once again, you’ve done it better with words.

    Looks I’ll be sending him a link!

    Reply • May 2 at 1:15 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Thanks, glad the visual worked for you.

      Reply • May 3 at 8:43 am
  2. Cisco says:

    Not sure what u mean by that really a video would be helpful I don’t see how u can climb a long way in a ” deadlift ” like position hmmm

    Reply • May 2 at 11:34 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      People do it all the time seated – when you lean over and hinge at the hips (or low back if youdon’t have the hip mobility) and let you chest come down to the bars you are in a “deadlift” type position. The difference is when you are seated you are not engaging the core the same way and you are wedging your groin into the seat when you climb.

      You can gain the strength to hold that position without the seat holding you up, which is pretty much my main point. As I showed in that video I linked to, your weight on the seat isn’t what is giving you the extra traction when you sit down to climb, it is the traction you get from the wedge effect you get with your groin and the seat. Stand up, maintain the same relative position and you can wedge yourself down to create just as much traction using your hands.

      We are also talking about those specific instances that people point to regarding the need to sit down for traction on steep, loose sections of climbs, not how you hold yourself all of the time when standing up to pedal or on all climbs.

      Reply • May 3 at 8:42 am
  3. Frank McKirgan says:

    I’ve been sitting on the climbs for years but following your articles have tried standing more. When I was sitting on the climbs, I didn’t worry about locking out the suspension. When I’m standing it feels like the bike bounces a lot more so it feels more important to lock out the frame so as not to lose power.

    Does that make sense?

    Reply • May 5 at 6:38 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Part of it is just learning how to stay light on the bike and not just bounce up and down on it. Learning how to use your hands to help wedge your feet into the pedals helps as well as the push-pull action cancels out a lot of pedal bob.

      However, I also think that pedal bob gets totally overblown. It isn’t nearly as big a factor on the trail as it is on the road and standing up and allowing your suspension to work better will make it easier to pedal over trail obstacles. The power loss is offset by the traction gains you get from the suspension being able to roll over stuff.

      Also, when you stand up to pedal more you will want to run your suspension a bit stiffer than usual. Suspension settings are based on seated pedaling and when you stand up you need a stiffer platform.

      Reply • May 5 at 11:13 am
  4. Wacek says:

    Also remember that although it is counter-intuitive, the harder gear allows more traction. If you still use the front mechc then get rid of it asap

    Reply • May 14 at 4:20 pm
  5. Erik Griffioen says:

    I typically ride seated, but less so than before. I lowered the seat on my bike slightly (relative to what is typically considered optimum for pedalling efficiency) which has greatly improved my ability to absorb bumps and obstacles by allowing my legs to better act as shock absorbers. It has also eased the pressure on my groin (no more numbness) as well as my lower back.
    I have found that I am applying more weight to my pedals and not the seat as before. As well, a lower seat allows me to get out of the saddle easier since my legs already are more pre-loaded.
    I am probably faster on the trail now as well since I am better able to adapt to the varying conditions with a slightly lower seat.
    What are your recommendations for seat heigh ? I ride a XC 29er.

    Reply • April 24 at 4:23 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      I look for the exact feel that you are describing. You should feel like you can extend your leg most of the way but not all the way, or else you run into all the problems you described. Since I recommend that you stand up for hard pedaling efforts you don’t need to worry about your knees hurting from not being fully extended and you can run your seat post a little lower. Glad you were able to find something that works better for you on the trail.

      Reply • April 27 at 11:34 am
  6. JackMarker says:

    I’ve been sitting on the climbs for years but following your articles have tried standing more. When I was sitting on the climbs, I didn’t worry about locking out the suspension

    Reply • August 6 at 4:35 am
  7. Laura says:

    Hi, I know this is an old post, but I wonder if you are still reading the comments.

    I always ride standing up now (sitting only to gather my breath downhill), as I developed a back and neck problem from riding only sitting, like you explained. The problem I have found is that this riding style done daily has eroded my chain components in a short period of time.

    Do you have any recommendations on what type of bike to look for, or what kind of gear is the most resistant to the extra wear and tear?
    Thanks in advance.

    Reply • April 7 at 10:57 am

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