Sit or Stand?

Should I sit or should I stand now?


Situation:  I like climbing in the saddle but I feel wasted after 5 or 6 hills. We often feel more in control and faster climbing seated.  However, in a longer race with a half of dozen hills, we might sabotage the rest of your race if we always climb in the saddle.  This is simply because your climbing specific leg muscles can reach their climbing tolerance and are beginning to fatigue when asked to produce high amounts of power in the same position.  You will experience acute muscle fatigue similar to the fatigue you experience when doing repeated sets of a strength training exercise.  However, if the race is shorter and has only a few moderately steep hills, staying seated and aero on all the hills may yield the best performance without compromising the rest of your race.


Situation: Early hill. If a hill is really early in the race (as they often are in triathlon’s that come out of a lake bed or river valley) and you did not do any hills during your bike warm-up, than you better take it easy and get out of the saddle for this first climb.  This will let your body-weight and gravity do some of the work and reduce the risk of blowing up your quads.  The problem arises when you take your quads and throw 500+watts of resistance at them 1 minute into the bike.  You see you quadriceps and glute muscles are still sleeping a bit from their full-extended leg position during the swim.  You would elicit the same feeling and result as you would during a maximum effort during a set of really heavy squats without warming-up.  The end result could be acute minor muscle damage that will heal in about 3-days, not in 5minutes; so warm-up wisely to the hills!


Situation: Lots of tour riders hop out of the saddle a lot, maybe I should? There is also a concern with climbing fast out of the saddle.  Climbing out of the saddle raises your total caloric expenditure because you have more muscles involved in the movement. Standing while climbing relieves stress on your climbing specific leg muscles and displaces the stress throughout the rest of your musculature.  Climbing out of your saddle also utilizes your weight and gravity to apply leverage into your pedals, which can give you more power. However, because of the increased cardiovascular demands of climbing at a higher intensity, you will begin to lower your blood glucose and begin depleting your glycogen (glucose) stores.  You only have so many maximum efforts available to you before you experience energy depletion that will hinder your performance.  After a few strong hill efforts you may notice that your body feels flat and very resistant to high-end aerobic and anaerobic carbohydrate metabolizing efforts.  If you are a triathlete who jumped into a road bike race with lots of aggressive anaerobic attacking, you know what I am talking about.  “You only have so many magic bullets.”  The pros takes into account thier muscle endurance, energy available, and aerodynamic efficiency every time they get out of the saddle for extended periods of time.


Closing Thoughts: Analyze the bike portion of the race very thoughtfully.  Model your training in the month leading up to the race around what you expect to see in the race.  If an Olympic Distance course is hilly, examine the length and steepness of the hills and get yourself ready!

Written by

Head Coach of TriEndurance. CSCS Strength and Conditioning Coach, Former Pro-Triathlete and current Endurance Enthusiast competing in short and long distance (on or off-road) cycling events.

6 Comments to “Sit or Stand?”

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