One of the things that really separates strong riders from everyone else is the ability to stand and hammer on their bike. If you are a downhill or 4X/ Dual Slalom rider then this seems pretty self evident – the fastest guys are just as strong while standing at the end as they are at the beginning of a run while everyone else is fighting the urge to sit down and rest.
However, this also holds true for trail and XC riders as well. Sure, you’ll hear from all he detractors who will tell you that standing is less efficient, that it makes your suspension bob or that you get less traction on the rear wheel but the truth is that the fastest riders, like single speed world champ Ross Schnell, do not run a granny gear up front and tend to run a 34 or 36 tooth chainring. This means that they will stand and hammer a lot more than us mere mortals will.
I look at it this way – sitting down to pedal is like jogging, standing up to pedal is like sprinting. Sure, jogging is more efficient IF you are running a marathon but sprinting is the best way to go if you are running 100 meters. If you are riding in the Leadville 100 then you better jog, if you are out on a 1-2 hour trail ride then being able to easily throw some sprints in will help you cover more ground and have more fun in the process.
What most riders mean when they say that standing up to pedal is less efficient is that it is much harder for them and they can not sustain it for very long. The fact is that standing pedaling is more powerful, which is why you can go increase speed or grind up climbs faster when standing, but it does place more of a strain on your core and upper body to support your weight while also requiring more hip drive to pedal. When you are sitting down your seat supports a lot of your weight and you are in a more quad dominant position so your core, upper body and hip weaknesses are masked.
This is why single speed riding has gained a reputation as a great way to train or to increase core strength. Because single speeds force you to stand up in sections that you would normally just downshift you expose your core, upper body and hips to the demands of standing pedaling and therefore get them stronger. It is not that there is something magical about single speed riding, simply that it exposes your weaknesses and forces them to adapt and get stronger.
But you can use strength training to make those gains in a faster, more efficient manner. One of the most common bits of feedback I get from clients is that they simply feel stronger on the bike and that standing pedaling efforts don’t seem as hard anymore. This is from nothing more than getting the core, hips and upper body strong in a systematic manner.
Using core exercises like planks, side planks and bird dogs to increase core stability is very important since the less stable your “platform” the less strength and power you can produce when relying solely on it.
Using upper body exercises like push ups, chin ups and inverted rows to increase upper strength is important because standing pedaling requires you to hold yourself up and stabilize your position with your upper body.
Using hip dominant exercises like deadlifts, single leg deadlifts and swings to increase hip strength is important because standing pedaling requires much more hip drive than seated pedaling does.
So there you have it, a blueprint for overcoming the weaknesses that keep you from easily standing and hammering out singletrack. Standing pedaling is only a bad option if you don’t have the strength and endurance in the core, upper body and hips to sustain it. Attack those weaknesses with a good training program and that is no longer an issue. 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.