Is it really **wrong** to stand up?

The science.


Thanks! This is a great review, and so I guess the conclusion is pretty much that agreed upon here. There is no simple answer and its best to listen to your body.

I’m a heavier rider and I stand all the time, albeit intermittently.

The glute activation can be a huge reprieve.

I don’t find energy inefficiency to be a problem, as it’s never the limiter.

You might find this of interest

That video is already linked here, 3 posts above.




Well, it is such a good video, that it’s worth watching at least twice. Thanks!


Not to mention that standing vs sitting is not binary but rather there is a whole spectrum:

  • planting your sit-bones firmly on the saddle (like during a ramp test),
  • unweighting your saddle a few kg while still keeping saddle contact,
  • floating a few centimeters above the saddle while keeping your back horizontal,
  • the all-body OOS sprint,
  • the light footed dancing for relieving tension during a long climb,
  • all the way up to the fully erect stairmaster position you might use on a 20% kicker.

My two cents, based on personal experience, complete hearsay, and zero science: Standing is more aerobic, sitting requires more leg srength. You probably have excellent aerobic capacity, and are therefore able to apply more power standing than seated. The “Basque climbers” — who generally have very wiry, runner-like builds — have been climbing out of the saddle forever to great effect.

So my vote is to stay out of the saddle. Unless your history of serious training on the bike is relatively short (less than half a decade or so), in which case your legs might still be catching up with your lungs. One way to diagnose that: If there’s a large gap between your max HR running and your max HR while seated on the bike, you might have some room to improve in the seated position. (I say “large” because few people are able to hit exactly their max HR on the bike. But anecdotally, it seems like highly trained cyclists can come within a beat or three.)

As in the last minute of the video, I think of it not only as cardiovascularly inefficient (not just uptake, which could mean better capacity, but also HR, which seems to mean working harder), but also as aerodynamically inefficient (though I suppose you could hide in drops), so limit it if there is any headwind. I think the instinct to use high power standing does cause us to confound the two, but I’ve noticed (when I need a butt-rest) that if you stand in a high gear, I can sustain a more typical power for much longer than my typical sprint intensity. Standing also helps me burp.

I find it the opposite. Standing requires more muscle recruitment and thus elevates heart rate likely through taxing larger muscle groups and/or some fast twitch fibers. Completely making this up, but I think I might be correct.

Here’s a ride today. I alternated between sitting and standing. Same power output, much different heart rate and RPE. RPE is higher and HR is elevated (+10-15 BPM) when I stand. You can see this in the peaks on the red HR line. I’m doing this because I have a hunch that I can train some of these fast-twitch fibers to do more aerobic work while standing.

Is there also a difference between standing outside on the road vs. standing on the trainer? I finding doing standing intervals on the trainer feels so weird, but I also don’t do a lot of climbing in my regular riding since I live in a pancake flat area (with “wind” mountains to grind through…).

Yes, due to the locked in nature of most bike/trainer combos, the motion adopted for standing inside is “different” than outside.

  • Outside, we keep the our chest pointed forward and have a bit of bounce at the hips and shoulders. We rock the bike left and right under us.
  • Inside, we can’t rock the bike on a rigid setup, so that leads to a shift on our motion compared to outside. It’s possible to stand, but there is just a different feel to it.

Things like rollers and rocker plates allow varying degrees of freedom for the bike and rider, when compared to rigid setups. These sometimes allow for a movement pattern more similar to what we do outside. But these motion setups are not perfect matches or guaranteed to reproduce identical motion that we do outside. I feel that some motion is better than fixed, and recommend people give these setups a try if they aim to do more standing.

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@anthonylane – Interesting! I may have stated my hypothesis unclearly or incorrectly, as I think your data actually support my contention. To me, “more aerobic” means “greater recruitment of heart and lungs”, which would equal a higher heart rate. And I think you’re right that standing is taxing larger muscle groups, or at least more muscle groups, thereby requiring less work on the part of the leg muscles that we normally employ while seated.

My experience mirrors yours, with the addition that my legs hurt/burn less while standing.

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For short sharp climbs I find I’m faster standing up but the longer the climb I’m faster sitting and spinning, I think primarily its because it is more sustainable. When I was younger I found mixing it up (sitting and standing) was fastest on a long climb but that’s less sustainable these days. On a very long climb I will still stand up occasionally but not to be faster just to change position and muscle groups :wink:

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Yup, that about sums it up–the lack of movement on the upper body rocking the bike with the rigid nature of the trainer (even if it has some rocking to it) is the weird part.

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You might enjoy single speed mountain biking. I do quite a bit of it and spend 90% of the time standing. It is very hilly in my main mtb area. Even on the technical stuff, I stand. You learn to modulate your pedal stroke for traction, and to keep your upper body very vertical. All of my mtb climbing PR’s are on the single speed. For road riding, there is a 40 minute climb in my city. I have stood the entire climb at tempo and it felt great, but my PR of 35 minutes was almost all seated at high cadence.

Agreed, standing applies more cardiovascular demand. A few weeks ago I did a 2hr recovery ride on the trainer (watched a tdf stage I suppose) and threw in 2x5 minute standing blocks, with lower cadence. Seated lower cadence drops my HR a bit for moderate wattages. But you can pretty clearly see my HR begin to rise immediately on standing (~110 seated; 130s standing).

It was a nice way to break up the monotony of a boring 2hrs. The glute activation was glorious.


Interesting discussion. I stand on climb but it hasn’t always been like that. When I started cycling a few years ago I always stayed in the saddle but these days I stand up immediately when there is a slightest gradient. I had a much higher cadence around 95 but now I have a cadence around 75 on my endurance rides 4 hours+. I have thought about my change in cadence and change of preference standing/seated but never saw the connection. I will dig deeper to see if I can find a breakpoint somewhere and what changed.

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Since starting this post I have paid more attention to my sitting vs. standing, and continued to think about this. I think I have a better understanding of the issue, at least for me.

Basically it boils down to this: Would you prefer to lift a 1KG weight with your index finer, or to lift a 2KG with all your fingers? The second option is much easier, and although it will cost you more energy, and might be less energetically efficient, it is clearly easier and more sustainable over many repeats.

After listening (actually, reading) a lot of the commentary on the TR workouts I have become a better sitter and a more efficient rider, and I implement this outside as well. On many climbs when I sit I hit good scores, but the thing is, I suffer more when I sit on hard efforts.

The workout image below illustrates this well. During the first two intervals of this Red Lake +8 I sat and as you can see the power curve is relatively smooth. But, it was so hard that I stood up on the third one. True, the power is lower, but I think this is a power meter and smoothness efficiency issue, not because I could not maintain the load (I think it would look better on a moving bike). On the 4th interval, I raised the intensity to 105% so that I could hit the required power despite the fluctuations due to standing. (Probably should have raised it more). On the last one, I suffered through another sitting interval. But, #3 and #4 were much easier for me, I could go for longer if needed quite easily. My HR was about the same on all repeats, but the effort was better distributed over more muscles (yes, less efficient, I know) and so much lower RPE. The fact that i have the proper physique to stand for long is another factor that helps, but there is another one, second IMO to the distribution of effort:

Breathing is much easier for me when I stand. I have a relatively small lung capacity, and maybe that is why I feel uncomfortable crouched on hard efforts. When I stand up I can inhale much more easily and that certainly helps and reduces the feeling of breathlessness which I experience on the very tough efforts.

So, bottom line for me: standing is less efficient, but because the effort is distributed over more muscle groups, and because breathing is easier, it is the position I automatically adopt when things get really tough.


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