Should uphill cyclists stand or sit?
(Reproduced with the kind permission of
Peak Performance Newsletter)
It's common practice for cyclists to stand on the pedals during
hill climbs. However, few studies have investigated physiological
responses of different body positions for competitive cyclists
riding on inclines. Some research has found that cyclists were
able to attain a higher VO2max on a cycle ergometer when they
were allowed to stand up. In theory, standing may allow cyclists
to use an increased muscle mass.
A study reported recently in the Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology
investigated the effects of cycling body position on physiological
responses during uphill cycling. Seven competitive road cyclists
took part, each completing eight different trials, riding his
own road-racing bike on an indoor treadmill.
Energy expenditure and heart rate were significantly greater for
standing compared with seated cycling when the cyclists rode up
a 4% treadmill grade. This trend was not seen, however, during
steeper uphill cycling (10% grade). This may be because a change
in ergonomics at the higher grade (more pushing and pulling force
applied to the handlebars) may have added an additional energy
expenditure when sitting, resulting in no difference from the
Thigh muscle discomfort while climbing is common for competitive
cyclists. For the 10% incline, although physiological measures
were equivalent for standing and seated positions, cyclists reported
a lower perceived exertion for the standing position.
The fact that a higher VO2max was not found for cyclists using
a standing position conflicts with some earlier research. However,
previous studies have used untrained cyclists - in this case,
a lower VO2 max while seated could have reflected undeveloped
thigh muscles and relatively low thigh strength which would be
compensated for by including more upper body muscular activity
The results therefore indicate that for well-trained cyclists
climbing moderate or low inclines, a seated position is the most
efficient. For high inclines, standing or remaining seated are
equivalent for efficiency, but standing just feels better!
('Seated versus standing cycling in competitive road cyclists',
Tanaka et al, Can J Appl Physiol vol 21, pp149-154)
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