Seated vs standing climbing
Sprinting, accelerating, descending or time trialing is all very nice, but the essence of cycling is of course cycling uphill. There is nothing more beautiful than making altitude meters disappear under your wheels and conquering a serious mountain top. Everyone who has ever ridden up a serious climb has also been confronted with the question, should I stand up or stay seated? Usually this question is answered completely unconscious and you suddenly start cycling standing up, without realizing it. But which is actually better or when should you actually stand on the pedals. In this article we answer that question.
MORE POWER AND MORE MUSCLE GROUPS
The big difference between standing and seated climbing is in the biomechanics. When you stand on the pedals, literally all of your weight comes in a line above the pedals and this allows you to use more muscles. In particular, your glutes and calf muscles can now be recruited better, but your quadriceps can also provide more power. In addition, your upper body, trunk and arm muscles can participate in the forward cycling motion, which simply allows you to deliver more power.
Higher air resistance when climbing standing
By standing on the pedals, the frontal surface increases considerably and thus the air resistance. Part of the extra power generated by standing is therefore immediately lost to the increased air resistance. Because of this, standing climbing pays off especially at low speeds, when the air resistance is lower.
Type II muscle fibers
So by climbing while standing you can deliver more power, just like with sprinting while standing. However, this ultimately comes with a higher cost in terms of energy consumption and you build up more muscle fatigue. Research shows that these higher costs are not immediately presented in a higher oxygen uptake. This has to do with the fact that you can deliver this extra power for a large part with the anaerobic type II muscle fibers. As a result, more oxygen is not immediately required to deliver the higher power output. However, this anaerobic energy is not inexhaustible and you must eventually redeem it. A study with high-level cyclists therefore showed that they mainly cycle standing up to keep their speed as constant and as high as possible throughout the climb. On steep sections, the cyclists climbed while standing for a short time, and on flatter sections they repaid this debt.
The factors that determine when to stand
But when is it better to stand than to stay seated? This is actually a fairly complex interplay of several factors. First of all, the speed is important. If the speed is too high, the extra power gained by standing is outweighed by the increased air resistance. Of course, that speed is largely dependent on the steepness of the climb, but also on how good you are. Research shows that climbing standing is especially beneficial when your power output is close to or above your threshold (or FTP). However, this point at which it is better to stand is different for each individual. It depends, for example, on the distribution of muscle fibers. Someone who has a lot of anaerobic type II muscle fibers can stand sooner and more often than someone with a more aerobic type I muscle fiber. Finally, body weight is also a very important factor. Because standing climbing involves putting all of one’s weight above the pedals, a heavier cyclist must also support a greater weight. A lighter pocket cyclist can therefore stand sooner, while for very heavy cyclists it is almost never benificial to stand.
Finally, for when you conquer that majestic col standing, two important tips to keep in mind. First, shift gears a little heavier when you stand. Because you engage more muscle groups when climbing while standing, the coordination also becomes more complex. If the pedaling frequency is too high, the cycling movement will quickly become inefficient because you will be working against yourself coordinatively. Therefore, make sure that you ride about 5 to 10 rpm lower than sitting down. In addition, standing up it is very tempting to sway your bike from left to right. This looks very impressive, but it also increases rolling resistance. With a slight swaying motion, you can achieve a good biomechanical transfer from your hip to your pedals, but don’t overdo it. The last and perhaps most important tip is not to underestimate the intelligence of the human body. Your body can tell you when to stand and when not to stand. Try not to override this with your brain that tells you something else, but learn to listen.
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