I got into an email discussion between my buddy Gene Hamilton (www.betterride.net) and a student of his regarding standing pedaling technique while climbing. Here’s my thoughts on that plus why I’m throwing the gauntlet down on clipless pedals…
Climbing while standing all comes down to body position, or more importantly you ability to hinge at the hips and not the low back. Any rounding of the low back and/ or upper back (I call it turtleing up) will throw off your power center and your balance.
Proper standing pedaling technique is nothing more than proper hip hinge technique where you’ve got your chest puffed out, and arch in your low back and being able to maintain that spine position while hinging at the hips. The only way, in my opinion, to really ingrain this and get it right on the bike is to get off the bike and train that movement pattern. So, if you really want to see good standing pedaling technique watch my deadlift demo video and ingrain that movement. If that is how you move you won’t have to “figure out” how to do it on the bike, it will happen with minimal thought and effort.
Now, since most riders can’t achieve that position when standing and instead apply a rounded “seated” posture while standing they can’t maintain traction on the rear wheel when climbing. I can climb much better when standing, when I’m seated I feel like I’m fighting my front end from popping up. The steeper the climb the more the front end wants to wander so I stand up and get long which spreads my weight out and lets me keep the front end down and traction on the rear wheel. Core and hip strength play a big role because you can’t lean on the handlebars (we know that is bad body position) and you need all your weight on the pedals but without adequate strength in those areas you will lean into the handlebars to support your weight rather than using your core and hips to “suspend” you body over your bottom bracket.
And about clipless pedals increasing power…they do, but not how you want them too. If you have someone who has long, weak glutes and short, tight hip flexors (your average rider, in other words) they literally can not use their hips to pedal through the “deadspot” on the bottom. You attach their feet to the pedals so they can now use their already overworked hip flexors to pull through the top. It did not fix the problem, it simply made you more efficient with your dysfunction. In the face of that instant performance increase people stop there and really ingrain the “sit, spin and pull through” technique. They never really learn how to use the most powerful muscles in their body (the hips) to power through the bottom of the pedal stroke which, in my opinion, ultimately limits their development.
That is not an advantage, it is a crutch that results in an appallingly high rate of overuse injuries. There is absolutely nothing that you can do with clipless pedals that you can’t do just as well, if not better, with flats. This isn’t even taking into account how clipless pedals completely screws up the natural “rolling” motion the foot goes through. Your foot is designed to strike mid foot on the outside and roll into the arch and pushing through the center of the midfoot. This rolling action creates a natural screwing motion and avoids a linear up and down motion, which is how the leg is designed to work. By attaching the foot to the pedal at the middle-midfoot position you take away the entire roll action and place a crapload of stress on the knees and hips. 85% overuse injury rates don’t lie – something is wrong with clipless pedaling.
Just because you are on a bike doesn’t mean that everything we know about how the human body is supposed to power movement goes out the window. We were convinced not too long ago that running shoes were great and we now know that you try to improve on mother nature at your own risk. The more I look at it the more I’m convinced clipless pedals are worthless and screw your body up.
Anyways, just some thoughts…