How Much Does Standing in the Saddle Help You Generate More Cycling Power?
BY ELIZABETH MILLARD July 22, 2020
- According to a recent studyin the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, standing in the saddle is more effective than the seated position for generating high pedal forces.
- Even though standing in the saddle decreases your knee power, your hips and ankles play a larger role in cycling efficiency, which actually generates more power.
When you’re out on a ride and you see a big hill coming up, you often shift to stand in your pedals in order to tackle it. But is that increased oomph a real thing or just a placebo effect?
Turns out, you really can generate extra power with this move, according to a recent study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
Researchers looked at 15 male participants who rode on an instrumented ergometer—a stationary bike with numerous controls to measure power output and body mechanics—at 50 percent of their maximal power. The participants rode at two different cadences of 70 revolutions per mind (rpm) and 120 rpm in both seated and standing positions. Observations and testing included full-body motion capture, leg muscle activity, and crank force.
There were significant differences due to posture, but it wasn’t only related to leg muscle activation, according to the study’s lead author, Ross Wilkinson, Ph.D.(c), of the School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences at The University of Queensland in Australia. Instead, it all starts with the joints.
The standing posture decreased knee power by 15 percent in both cadences; that might seem like a bad thing in terms of cycling efficiency, but it’s actually good, Wilkinson told Bicycling. As the knee power decreases, your hips and ankles play a larger role, which actually generates more power.
“Our results provide evidence that the standing position is more effective than the seated position for generating high pedal forces, because the knee has better mechanical advantage,” he said. “Our results also suggest that changing from a seated to a standing position alters the requirements for muscles used during cycling to generate, absorb, and transfer power.”
In the standing position, cyclists tend to move their hips higher and further forward in relation to the downstroke pedal, he added. That posture change shifts the activity of the quads, glutes, and calves to later in the downstroke than you would have while seated. Because that’s more aligned with the force of gravity, Wilkinson said, the end result produces more crank power while supporting your bodyweight.
Cadence does have a large effect on joint power contributions, he added. For example, at a lower cadence, you’d rely more on your ankles and calf muscles, while a higher cadence would rely more on your hips and glutes.
[Want to fly up hills? Climb! gives you the workouts and mental strategies to conquer your nearest peak.]
Does all that mean whenever you need more power, you should train yourself to stand in the saddle? Not necessarily, Wilkinson said.
“Trust your instincts,” he said. “We each use our experience of riding under different conditions to determine when the standing position can help us be more effective.”
Trying to determine a precise transition point in term of power, torque, and cadence is an exercise in futility, he said, because the mechanisms that trigger the transition are likely to change based on the task. For instance, you might opt for standing just to relieve an aching butt or back.
“That said, the results here do support the strategy of briefly switching between a seated and standing position during long climbs, because it likely helps to redistribute power requirements to different muscles,” Wilkinson said.
ELIZABETH MILLARD Elizabeth Millard is a freelance writer focusing on health, wellness, fitness, and food.