You know, I’m really starting to like these guys at Global Cycling Network. This is twice now that they have unwittingly proved things I’ve been saying for years with their GCN Does Science video series.
The mountain biking world is full of myths and half-truths that end up holding riders back and the lie that seated pedaling is more efficient than standing pedaling is one of the worst.
First they set out to prove that you needed to pull up on the backstroke and ended up showing us that you can be more efficient on flat pedals than on clipless pedals. If you missed that video and my breakdown of what it means you can check that post out by clicking here.
And now they have blown apart another myth, this time showing that standing up to pedal is just as efficient as sitting down. I know, I know…that sounds impossible according the common cycling lore but it turns out that everyone who told you to sit and spin because it was more efficient than standing up was wrong.
When tested, the rider in this video used the same amount of oxygen when he was alternating between 30 seconds standing and 30 seconds seated pedaling compared to just sitting and spinning for the same time and effort level. You can check out the test and results for yourself by watching this video:
This video just shows what I’ve pointed out many times which is that seated pedaling isn’t more efficient, it is just easier at first than standing pedaling. It takes more core, upper body and hip strength to drive standing pedaling and just because you don’t have it when you first start riding doesn’t mean you can’t train it. Standing pedaling also takes a different body position than seated pedaling and this takes time to learn and get comfortable with. You’ll notice the rider in the video was very smooth and controlled when he stood up and you could tell he had a lot of practice with the position.
Most riders don’t look anywhere near that smooth when standing up and that just comes with time and practice. They take their struggles with standing pedaling as sign that they should avoid it instead of recognizing it as a weakness that needs to be trained.
And this mindset is simply reinforced every time someone tells a rider that they need to sit as much as possible and only stand up when they have to. This advice is not only misguided it is actually going to make whoever takes it a worse rider as a result.
Like they said at the end of the video, standing pedaling is something that you need to train. Besides showing that it is just as efficient as seated pedaling, they also pointed out that most riders can lay down more power when standing as well. If you can turn your most powerful pedaling position into one that you are comfortable and efficient with then you’ve got a definite advantage over the rider who rarely stands and is uncomfortable and inefficient when they have to stand up to lay down power.
Another thing that I noticed from the test that I found interesting was that the heart rate would climb a few beats when he stood and drop a few beats when he sat down, however the average was the same as what he was sustaining during the seated only test. To me this is a definite advantage for standing pedaling since this slightly varied heart rate may be healthier than a steady heart rate over the same time.
The body doesn’t normally like a steady heart rate and having little to no variation in your heart rate is actually a sign of an unhealthy heart. Our hearts like a little “noise” when doing exercise and so this makes combining standing and seated pedaling “healthier” in my book.
You’ll also notice that the lactate levels dropped slightly when he stood up to pedal. Again, the average was the same but it is interesting that his anaerobic metabolism was actually working less when he stood up. I think that every rider can appreciate that going into a max effort with lower blood lactate levels is going to mean you can push harder before you hit the metabolic wall.
To me this explains a practice I’ve picked up instinctively over the years where I will stand up for a few seconds before I need to when I know a hill is coming up. I can literally feel the tension and stress reduce when I do this and I feel this helps me go into the climb in a better physical and metabolic condition. Now that I saw the results of this test it explains why I do this and why you should as well.
I can’t say it enough – make standing climbing a strength on the trail instead of something you avoid like the plague because everyone told you it was “less efficient” or that you’ll just tire yourself out standing up so much. Your performance and fun-factor will go through the roof when you free yourself of that mindset.
The fastest way to do this is to get stronger in the gym and to have specific times on the trail or during your on-bike cardio training that you are standing up as much as you can. You have to get past the point that you just bail out to the seated position when things get uncomfortable if you ever want to be comfortable standing up. No, you don’t need to stand up all the time but you should get to where you can stand up when you need to lay down some power and use seated pedaling to recover for you next standing effort.
Besides everything else I’ve talked about there are two more benefits from standing up more to pedal.
First, standing up to pedal will take a lot of stress off of your lower back. Like I pointed out in my Real Cause of MTB Low Back Pain post, when you stand up all sorts of good things happen in the core that help to protect the lower back. I’ve had several riders with chronic low back pain see it go away after adopting a more standing pedaling centric riding style.
Second, you take the pressure of your crotch. Like I pointed out in this post on Improving Your Standing Climbing Traction, you aren’t putting weight on the rear wheel when climbing as much as you are creating a wedge between your feet and your crotch, which isn’t good for your tender parts down there.
When you stand up you can create that wedge between your feet and your hands, giving you the same traction but in a much more “crotch friendly” way. Plus you’ll save a ton of money on chamois and chamois cream. Because of how much I stand up I never use or need those things, even if I’m riding for 8 days in a row and 3-4+ hours a day like I did this summer in Bend.
So there you have it, a whole list of reasons that Standing Pedaling isn’t just as efficient as Seated Pedaling but it has some advantages that Seated Pedaling doesn’t. And this makes it a better position for us to rely on when riding our bikes.
Don’t be limited by someone else’s false beliefs. The mountain biking world is full of myths and half-truths that end up holding riders back and the lie that seated pedaling is more efficient than standing pedaling is a big one. Like a lot of riders who have taken my advice over the years have found, the trail starts to get a lot more fun when you stand up and unshackle your butt from the seat.
And having fun is what it is really all about so why wouldn’t you do it? Spend some time getting stronger and focusing on the skill of standing pedaling and you’ll unlock a whole new level of fun you never knew existed.
Until next time…