Why standing pedaling is better than seated pedaling…once you know how.

As you probably know I have some different views on mountain biking compared to most “experts”. From the value of flat pedals to the ridiculousness of spending hours on a road bike to improve your mountain bike conditioning I try to get riders to stop and think about things, if only for a second.

Funny things happen when riders stop and think about things. Some of them start to realize that there may be more to the story than what they were told. The world of mountain biking is littered with myths, half-truths and outright lies and I’m here to help shed some light on what it really takes to improve your riding.

One area that I’ve talked about before but I think needs some special attention is Standing Pedaling. Most riders view Standing Pedaling as something to be avoided unless absolutely necessary.

They are told that they’ll tire themselves out too quickly and they think they need to sit down in order to weight the rear tire on climbs.

They end up shackling themselves to their seats, which really impedes their growth as a rider.

In this new podcast I go over all things standing pedaling. I’ll dispel the myths surrounding it and reveal…

– Why it can actually be easier on your knees to stand up while climbing.

– Why you have to stand up to execute skills properly.

– Why clipless pedals can make it harder to stand up.

– How to use standing and seated pedaling together over the course of a ride.

Use the link below to download this episode of the MTB Strength Coach Podcast

Download this episode (right click and save)

Once you understand that standing pedaling is better than seated pedaling in many ways and how you can incorporate it more into your riding you’ll never look at the trail the same way again. More riders are held back by this one myth than anything else on the trail. Break free of the seat shackle and you’ll have way more fun on the trail.

-James Wilson-

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  1. Mark DePonzi says:

    I actually find when I stand up it gives me more energy and blood circulation. I try and have an equal amount of time seated and standing. Of course seated is not a powerful but I try and train myself to be off the seat more n more. And the big factor for me is it makes it so much more fun . Great article

    Reply • June 28 at 11:05 am
  2. brad says:


    Would you talk about gear selection (meaning chain ring size) that you are using when standing and why? Are you ever in your small front ring?

    Reply • June 28 at 11:21 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      I run a 34 tooth chainring up front and don’t have a granny gear anymore. I have a regular 9 speed on my main trail bike with a 32 as the tallest gear. You will have to use a harder gear to give you resistance so you can stand up – if you’re gearing is too low you will feel really awkward and unstable trying to spin 90+ rpm while standing.

      BTW, I ride a 34 pound, 6 inch travel trail bike and have ridden in places like Crested Butte and pedaled everything, most of it standing.

      Reply • June 30 at 10:17 am
  3. marc prado says:

    I literally “lol” at work when you went on your side rant about being king of the mountain on strava! Funny stuff. Anyway, you really cleared up a lot of questions for me with this podcast. All my rides are usually more than two hours and thats when I try to incorporate what I learn from you. But as you said today, I should take shorter rides to practice and implement new stuff. I tell you I try to stand for the most of my rides but after a while I get beat down physically. I’ll be honest, my right knee does hurt when I stand and pedal but its due to poor technique and a weak core. just aas you explained today. I am currently in the gym trying to strengthen and fix this body. So all my workouts consists of only body weight movements and exercises. I’m hoping by the end of this year I can continue to improve as a rider! I look at mtb riding not just as a sport or weekend hobbie, but as a life style, a certain attitude and something I am very proud to say I do! Thanks James

    Reply • June 28 at 12:50 pm
  4. Jim says:

    Great thoughts on standing and technique. So true. I see so many riders on their toes who pick and roll through really bad lines. For me, I’ve been on platforms forever and truly love them, but I’m racing off road triathlons, so I recently put on some clipless and have been using them. I plan to go back and forth, which I think will make me a well-balanced rider.

    With my platform background, I, of course, have the cleat all the way back. Now, I need some new clipless shoes. Which brand / models have the most room to move the cleat around? Which ones can be moved the farthest back? I’d like them to be light weight as well.

    Thanks man,

    Reply • June 29 at 6:20 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      To be honest I am not sure. I know that 5.10’s clipless pedal shoes don’t (no clue why the flat pedal people have a clipless pedal shoe and can’t figure out where to put the cleat). I’d recommend finding a shoe you like, running the cleat all the way back and if that doesn’t work then you can drill some holes out that will – that is what a lot of riders who move their cleats back to a mid-foot position have to do.

      Reply • June 30 at 10:18 am
      • Jim says:

        Thanks. I have an old pair. I’ll experiment with those first.

        Reply • July 1 at 4:00 pm
      • Zane says:

        The Giro Chambers have the cleat position placed way back towards mid foot. I haven’t cut out the cleat and still run them as flats though. Awesome shoe as a flat though…

        Reply • September 12 at 10:45 am
  5. Excellent. Did a quick 30 minute trail ride last night and just for fun stood the whole time. I already do stand a bit and use flat pedals, but do occasionally notice some knee stress so may be sitting too much and not developing my muscles correctly. Here is what I noticed when standing last night:

    – Felt slightly wobbly, but knew that was related to needing more core strength
    – Was able/ had to be in a higher gear so gave me the ability to put down more power
    – While I felt more wobbly I actually felt like I had way more control on the technical sections and corners. Felt I could move my weight around better.
    – Definitely more tiring and harder to spin smoothly. Will take some practice
    – Learning to know when to stand and when best to sit is something to learn, most tech teachers tell you to sit all the time so this will be a journey of discovery.
    – Changing gear while standing is a little tricky.

    Think that incorporating a 30 minute to 1 hour standing ride a week to really learn and know when to stand and when to sit will help.

    Reply • June 29 at 9:47 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Good observations. One thing I will point out though is that you don’t need to worry about spinning smoothly when you stand – it won’t happen. Obviously you can smooth things out as you get better but you’ll never be able to spin like you can when you sit just by the nature of more weight being on the pedals.

      Keep me posted on how your “training rides” go…

      Reply • June 30 at 10:20 am
  6. Jakub says:


    It would be good if you showed us the right climbing position during STEEP ascends in your planned video. I’m feeling pretty good on standing pedalling up the hills (using your hints), but I found it difficult to find my position on a really steep climb (45 degrees?), to maitain balance and the grip of the rear wheel. My buddy was able to get up there using “sit and spin” method (he is also riding DH) on a decently lighter gear, I’ve failed (at least today).

    Reply • June 29 at 1:42 pm
  7. […] PM 30 Minute Trail Ride, stood the whole time focused on standing pedaling skills thanks to podcast by James Wilson. […]

    Reply • June 29 at 4:42 pm
  8. Tristano says:

    James, on another note i find standing to pedal over steep, loose climes allows me to pull the handlebars toward my chest (using the forks sag) to apply torque through the BB and into the rear wheel. this really aids in maintaining traction.

    Reply • July 1 at 3:25 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Exactly…I have a hard time describing that to riders who have never experienced it but you can certainly dig the rear tire in while standing for extra taction. In fact, I find it easier to do that than sitting down since I can actually use my whole body and drive into the rear wheel instead of just sitting there jamming my junk into the seat.

      Reply • July 1 at 7:53 am
  9. LWK says:

    great observations and article as usual. Question related to climbing. I get it for short (few minutes max), really high intensity (steep, speed or both) climbs. What about for longer climbs – I am thinking first of a stiff grinding climb that would last 20-30 min and put me at anaerobic threshold most of the way. And then for really long climbs – thinking of a 16 km long, 1,400 m vertical gain fire road type of climb that takes me 2+hr to complete.

    Reply • July 1 at 8:29 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Even long climbs like you describe are rarely an even grade with perfect traction the whole way. You will hit some harder grades and looser traction which will force you into High Tension Mode, in which case you stand up. When you are able to sit and spin an easy gear then do that.

      Plus, when you stand up you can get the tension off of the quads and use your whole body to pedal so it is still a good way to “rest” your seated pedaling movement pattern.

      The basic principle of “stand for your High Tension Efforts) still stands, it is just applied a but differently than a trail with a bunch of short, punchy climbs.

      Reply • July 3 at 9:28 am
  10. marc prado says:

    I went riding on sunday after my enduro race to work on my standing pedaling and I have to say I was quite impressed with myself. I am more aware of my technique and how I approach this style than I have before. When I first started to ride standing my knees did hurt but after adjusting my body position I notice a big difference. Still need to work on it though but just the minor tweaks I made because of this podcast helped tremendously. Also, I am riding switch foot now! Its crazy because it felt so unatural for me at first but now I really dont have to think twice about it. Another thing that has helped tremendously is looking through the turn when I corner. I dont know why this was so hard for me to do but now I am able to approach corners with a bit more confidence and speed! I love it! I still have a lot of work but I have made so much progress in just a matter of weeks by making small but conscientious adjustments. Thank you Coach!!

    Reply • July 2 at 11:27 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience, I love to hear stories like this one. Glad the advice has been paying off so well, keep me posted on how things progress for you.

      Reply • July 3 at 9:23 am
  11. Nancy says:

    Great article James! I am much stronger when I climb standing up than when sitting down and I prefer it. However when standing, I have to shift up 4 gears in order to make it hard enough to work efficiently. However if I can’t make the entire climb while standing, it is difficult on a steep hill to shift down 4 gears and still keep your momentum. Any suggestions?

    Reply • July 3 at 5:03 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      4 gears is a lot, what size chainring are we talking up front? I only have to shift up 1 or maybe 2 gears but I’m using a 32-34 tooth front chainring, if you trying to do it from your granny gear you may just need to stay in the bigger gear up front.

      As far as the down shifting, anticipating it is the best advice. Don’t wait until you are totally spent and have to sit down, downshift a couple gears as you transition to seated and then it shouldn’t be so hard to get yourself into the right gear when you’re there.

      Reply • July 4 at 11:39 am
  12. Jared says:

    I rode yesterday on my old 525spds that have a tiny platform, my cleat is as far back as I can get it. Standing up pedaling was okay. I bought some 510 Freeriders yesterday as well. Tried them today with wellgo Mg1s, on a preride of a hilly race course. Standing is way easier and I did often with little fatigue.It took me from November to July to buy the right shoes. I am now absolutely convinced of the value of flat pedals and the right shoes. I will still run SPDs time to time, but now feel I have a viable second option. Thanks for the site and all you put on it!

    Reply • July 3 at 10:02 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Glad to help, thanks for sharing your experience.

      Reply • July 4 at 11:40 am
  13. marie says:

    I have a bick,I have never seen one like this before.the chain goes up and down not round,you can stand to ride it.It was given to me in the 90’s My friend that gave it to me ,also bought one. Never saw one like this before.would like to find out more.Had new seats put on long ago the person who worked on it never saw one like this,wanted to buy it. I would to get info. on it.

    Reply • January 7 at 8:11 pm
  14. Fabien says:

    I ride XC and was trying to ride stood up / seat down for a little while and was struggling, feeling exhausted very fast with aches in my lower back and my legs… I tried again and again thinking that it was due to low core resistance (which is partly true). I read your blog and realized that the main problem was that I was staying in the attack position the whole time which was eventually exhausting me! (no wonder…) Yesterday went out with a better body position, hips above the crank and closer to the handlebars, the body more upright, moving to the attack position only when passing rock gardens, tight turns etc… And I had a blast! I was feeling very fluid, railed all the corners, could pump on small dips that I would not even notice before, but most of all I had a different perspective on the trail. I could see further away and felt in control, riding the bike and not bobbed around by it. I am currently working out at the gym 3 times a week following your training program. Your approach is changing my vision of mountain biking and making it so much nicer and more fun.

    Also, I was amazed to see that it is actually easier to climb steep slopes off seated! One question though, do you usually stand up for long 5-10 minutes steep climbs? I have a race in a couple of months that start with a long climb followed by technical single track technical / rocky riding, I am afraid to get too tired before reaching a section where I need my stamina.

    Reply • July 2 at 8:18 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Awesome story, thanks for sharing. I think that a lot of rider write off standing pedaling before they really learn how to do it in the first place and I’m glad you stuck with it long enough to see the benefits of it.

      As far as your questions goes, on longer climbs I will sit where I can and stand up where I need to or if I need a break from sitting. It isn’t about standing up all the time, it is about standing up when you need to lay down some power instead of just hunkering down in the adult fetal position. You may find yourself standing for most of the climb but look for spots to sit and recover when you can instead of just trying to stand the whole time just for the sake of standing the whole time.

      Hope that makes sense, keep me posted on how things go for you.

      Reply • July 2 at 10:25 am
  15. Steve Kenan says:

    James, what is your opinion about these e-bikes in light of stand up pedaling? It seems to me that people will just sit down on these bikes100% of the time

    Reply • September 12 at 3:12 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Yeah, it does seem to me that people would sit more on them. I don’t think they are a good idea for trail riding but the industry has been pushing to make MTB easier for so long that this is just an extension of it.

      Reply • September 13 at 8:14 am

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