One of the things that I’m known for is that I am a big advocate for standing pedaling. In a sport where riders are told to use seated pedaling – particularly high RPM seated pedaling – as much as possible the advice to stand up more really surprises some riders.
My opinion on the subject comes from my background in functional movement and how to best apply it to the bike. It also comes from understanding where the “sit and spin” advice comes from and why it is flawed if you apply some critical thinking to it.
First, I am not saying you should stand up all of the time. I have something I call The 4 Quadrants of Pedaling that outlines how I think riders should use the two different pedaling positions.
In a nutshell, I think that you should use seated pedaling for easy, low tension efforts and you should use standing pedaling for hard, high tension efforts. This is the best way to get the most performance out of your riding while also avoiding a lot of overuse injuries.
Let’s take a look at seated pedaling and why people think it is better and then see if those theories hold up.
I shot a video going into this subject in depth that you’ll want to check out. Click the link below to see the video replay or to download the MP3 file. You can also find it on Itunes, Podbean, Spotify and all other major podcasting platforms.
First, we’re told that seated, high RPM pedaling is more efficient. However, this is based more on the fact that most riders aren’t strong with standing pedaling and that it feels hard.
There have been studies and anecdotal evidence that shows that standing pedaling and seated pedaling are about the same from a metabolic efficiency standpoint. What’s more, when you stand up you are creating movement more efficiently.
You get more hip extension, you get your weight over the pedals so gravity can help more and you are able to get your core engaged with a better spine position and full knee extension, which is required to get stable knees at extension. This is a much better position for the body to create movement and power from.
This is one reason I’m not a big fan of bike fits for mountain bikers – once you stand up all those measurements go out the window and if I’m not over-relying on seated pedaling I don’t need it to be “perfect”.
It is the high tension efforts that create stiffness and overuse injuries and so you want to make sure you lay that high tension on the best movement patterns possible. So standing pedaling is arguably more overall efficient, which is a measure of how much energy you get out of your energy input.
Seated pedaling has a lower energy input and can be sustained for longer but don’t confuse that with being more efficient as these are two different things.
The next thing we are told is that seated, high RPM spinning is the most metabolically efficient way to pedal.
This is mainly based on the Carmichael Training System and the programs he came up with for Lance Armstrong. Lance was doing a lot of EPO and could therefore handle a higher aerobic load that you or I can, which calls this theory into question.
Even at the highest levels of road cycling you will find riders who are successful with a sit and spin style and with a more aggressive use of standing pedaling – there is no one way that works for everyone all of the time.
While you can argue that seated, high RPM pedaling is more efficient, you can’t get away from the fact that trail riding requires you to navigate problems that require the use of your skills, which are always best used from a standing position.
These are also usually the highest risk parts of riding and not being strong with being able to stand up and use more tension at the pedals is potentially dangerous. The culture of spin-and-pray to get through technical rock gardens is a testament to how weak more riders are with standing up and working through those problems from a better position.
Technical climbs, technical trail sections and jumps/ drops are best handled from a standing position with some tension at the pedals and not being strong in that position is holding a lot of riders back.
Lastly, what about the biggest myth about seated pedaling of them all – needing to keep weight on the rear tire to keep traction for climbs.
This is completely false and you need to look no further than a Clydesdale type ride who, if that theory were true, would never break traction because of their superior weight.
We all know that isn’t the case and this brings us to the difference between “weight” and “pressure”. Pressure is weight used actively, which is what we are really after.
Think about standing on the bathroom scale and pushing your weight into it to make it move past your actual weight.
You can also think about getting a truck that is stuck in the sand out – you can pile people in the back to help but eventually too many people actually creates a problem. The answer is to have the people start to bounce, which creates pressure and increases the traction of the tires.
This is what you want on the bike – pressure being pushed into the back tire as you take a pedal stroke to maximize your traction. It is this “bouncing” that is creating the pressure, which you can do sitting down but you can do much better standing up.
Your butt will be in about the same place in space but you’ll be able to move it and use your weight more effectively if you aren’t sitting down. Plus, creating a wedge with your taint isn’t good for it and the primary reason is that riders need special seats and have problems with that area.
Standing up moves the other end of the wedge to your hands, which is what they are made for.
So, as you can see, standing up is a better position to create movement and power from, it is a safer position to tackle technical trail problems and you can actually create better climbing traction.
But, like anything else, there is a learning curve that you need to go through. At first it will feel hard and awkward but with practice you can make it a strength instead of a weakness.
Something that can help with this is to make sure you are using flat pedals, preferably the Catalyst Pedal, because they create a more stable platform for your feet when you stand up.
Float and the lack of actual contact space between your foot and the pedal creates a lack of stability that makes standing up feel less stable and more awkward, which is something else that has fed into the prevalence of the sit and spin approach.
To help you train for standing pedaling make sure you do any hard cardio training while standing up and spend time on the trail with your seat down, which will force you to stand up when you should and learn how to best use seated and standing pedaling.
Standing pedaling has a lot to offer us as mountain bikers and is a low hanging fruit that a lot of riders could use to greatly improve their performance and decrease their overuse injuries.
Until next time…
MTB Strength Training Systems