I recently got a question from a rider about my position on Standing Pedaling. As a lot of you know, I am a huge advocate of Standing Pedaling and recommend that mountain bikers use it as their Performance Position. When things get tough and/ or you need to use a lot of skill to get through a situation on the trail then you are much better off standing up than trying to sit and spin.

This position is usually the opposite of what a lot of riders have been told. Instead, they are told to sit and spin as much as possible and only stand up when you have to.

The advice to sit and spin is also backed up by some studies that have shown Seated Pedaling to be more efficient than Standing Pedaling. And this was where the question came in…

Q: Do your recommendations for Standing Pedaling take into account the studies that show Seated Pedaling to be more efficient?

A: The studies you refer to have value but the problem is that their interpretation can be taken too far. Concluding that if seated pedaling is more efficient at sub-max levels then you should only sit down unless you are maxing out is going too far, and that is exactly the mindset that holds a lot of mountain bikers back.

You also have to look at the studies themselves – they are generally done on road riders and they are done in a lab. I’d argue that there are a lot of times on the trail when standing up and using your technique is more efficient than sitting down and just trying to out-fitness everything in sight. But you can’t really measure that in a lab.

Those tests were also comparing only standing to only seated pedaling, not using a mix of the two. GCN did a video and I did a blog post on a few years ago looking at seated only vs. a mix of seated and standing the the mix actually did better than the over-reliance on one position.

And more efficient in a lab doesn’t mean that it is the best thing for the human organism over the long term. There are a lot of problems with the seated pedaling position – even with the best bike fit – and short term study can’t take into account the long term overuse injuries that occur from too much seated pedaling.

There is a saying that “where good sport begins, good health ends”. What pros do to achieve max performance isn’t always the healthiest thing for their bodies, which may be a good trade off if you are earning a living but may not be worth it if you are not.

And last, avoiding Standing Pedaling because you’re afraid it will be less efficient will guarantee that you will always be inefficient with it since you never practice it. Those studies are a snapshot in time and who knows how proficient the riders were with Standing Pedaling in the first place, much less how time spent getting better at Standing Pedaling would impact the results. You can and will get better at Standing Pedaling with practice, but you can’t practice something you are avoiding.

Science is great but, like I said, it can be misinterpreted. Just because studies show that seated pedaling is easier at sub-max levels in a lab doesn’t mean that you should try to rely on seated pedaling as much as possible or to try and avoid max efforts (which is the other thing riders do).

Seated Pedaling is just a piece of the puzzle. That is why I like to use it for recovery – it is more efficient at sub-max efforts which makes it a great position to recover for your next hard effort.

The moral of the story is to not be afraid of standing up more and using it as a weapon rather than something to be avoided at all costs. You’ll be faster, have less aches and pains and find that with some practice you’ll actually prefer it to Seated Pedaling in a lot of situations.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson


2 thoughts on “Rider Q&A: Don’t Studies Show Seated Pedaling Is More Efficient Than Standing Pedaling?

  1. Dan Holmes says:

    Man James you nailed it in this post. I couldn’t agree with you more. Years ago I was reading your posts about standing up and pedalling and thinking hmm, seems like a good idea. Problem was, none of my friends were doing it but I thought okay I’ll try it. It felt weird at first and surprise surprise I took lots of ribbing from my friends. I just kept practicing and the more I practiced the more easier it got.
    I can still remember the tipping point about 8 years ago when I knew I’d been converted. Our group was starting up a long fairly steep climb to a logging road and one of the faster guys had gotten a head start. I said to myself, “what the hell, I’ll try and catch him.” So I stood up and giver. The rider behind me, seeing what I was doing yelled out, “ go get him Dano.” And I did catch him, felt great. In the past I’ve just always spun up that hill but standing felt so much better.
    Now I stand a lot, on long climbs I find it a great resting recovery position. A few years back I made myself a little single speed out of an old rigid 26er. I take it out often and climb the steep paved roads or smoother single track we have around here.
    I’m still in a very small minority of riders who stand up and pedal for any length of time. And as far as SS riding and standing goes, well a comment on my Strava post last week went like this, “ so you’re the crazy bastard I saw flying up the hill on a SS.”
    James, thanks to you I’m having a blast standing on my catalyst pedals. For you others reading this I’m 62 years young and I’m going to stand until I can’t.

    • bikejames says:

      Thanks for sharing, I love hearing stories like that. Once you commit to it then standing pedaling unlocks a whole new level of fun on the trail. Keep on showing the other riders what’s possible, I’m sure you’ve made a few riders question what they thought they knew about riding.

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