I’m not sure what to do when I’m riding a hilly course on my tri bike. Should I get out of the saddle or power through in a seated position?
There should be a combination of both seated and standing when climbing. I do not have a steadfast formula on how much you should do of each. There are several variables that affect climbing on your bike including the gradient of the hills as well as the muscle physiology and biomechanics of each individual. With practice you can develop your own rhythm of how to stand and sit while climbing on the bike.
Here are my tips to be the most efficient climber while seated and when you should shift to standing.
- Don’t Bow (anterior tilt) Or Slouch Your Back. If you are climbing a hill and the gradient becomes steeper and steeper, there is a tendency to pull up on your bars. Quite often this changes the angle of your pelvis and it becomes more anteriorly rotated–or your back will become more bow-shaped. When your low back muscles are shortened this body position will shut off your gluteals. Conversely when you are climbing some athletes have a tendency to sit back in a posterior tilt. Each of these positions is detrimental to your speed and form. There is a happy medium for optimal seated position and a nice low cadence. Here’s how to hone in the proper form for seated climbing:
- Draw in Your Belly. Draw in your belly or belt line to activate your transverse abdominis muscle without holding your breath. This will stabilize your spine and maximize the output from core, glutes and quads.
- Sit Up Tall. Sit tall between the base of your ribs and the iliac crest which is the top of your hip bone. Always keep this space elongated and open. The worst position is to be bent over like a banana. Sit up so you are relatively straight.
- Relax Your Elbows. If you become fatigued you can go to a lower gear; an easier, faster cadence generally helps. Drop your heel down a bit more at 3 o’clock because that will help recruit your glutes.
- Don’t Squeeze the Bars to Death. You want a firm grip on your bars whether you are seated or standing but you do not want to milk the bars to death. Try to relax your upper body, upper traps, and forearms and that will have the tendency to relax your upper body so that you are putting that engine, your gluteals and then your quads (your gluteals come first) into motion.
- Stand Up Early on the Climb. Don’t shift to standing as a last ditch effort. Begin to stand up early to alleviate potential back, neck and hip flexor tightness.
- Stretch Your Hip Flexors and Back. Standing up will stretch your hip flexors and back and it changes the muscle recruitment pattern in your quads and glutes and allows you a little reprieve. Ironically when you sit back down a lot times that strength comes back and you can go back into that choice gear and your cadence comes up and you are more fluid and more efficient! You want to maintain efficiency as you go up that hill.
Practice these tips on your next climb and let me know how it goes.