I got a great question from one of our triathlon team members. He asked why I prescribe standing sets in bike workouts when triathletes are best down in the aero position during races.
Here is the answer.
How we might train on the bike in order to lift fitness and create more ability as a cyclist is different than how we might race on the bike to maximize efficiency for a better overall racing result (including the run).
Sure, all things being equal, it is best that you stay seated during the triathlon bike leg for the majority of time. It does help keep effort and HR lower, and you are certainly more aerodynamic when seated vs standing. To put it another way, it IS generally more efficient than is standing.
However, when we’re training, especially in earlier phases of training that are not race-specific training, THE GOAL IS NOT to do things as you might do them on the race course. The goal is to work on certain skills, abilities, and lift fitness, so you will be better prepared to embark on that race-specific training, and, ultimately, race more efficiently and faster.
When it comes to cycling in particular, I’m a BIG FAN of doing whatever we can do to INCREASE the amount and variety of “tools” we have in our cycling “tool box.”
What do I mean?
I tell folks to ride a mountain bike and road bike some of the time, because being on THOSE machines challenges us in a different way than a tri-bike. They help develop different “tools” like handling, balance, short power production, riding in a group, etc. We might not develop these skills if we ONLY rode our tri bikes.
Standing is exactly the same thing. When we train our bodies to be able to stand on occasion–for short periods especially–to be able to generate power and speed (and mix up muscle usage as a side benefit), we add a new and beneficial tool to our cycling tool box.
Standing is a great way to get over short very steep hills without losing speed, for example. If you don’t TRAIN that, you will never be able to do it with any efficiency in either training OR racing. Train it, though, it you’re now able to do it, when you need to, whenever its appropriate.
How many times have you come to a short steep hill, and stayed in the saddle, only to see your speed fall to nearly zero as a result? If you were able to stand to generate speed and power over that short hill, you would be maintaining more speed over the top, which makes it easier to keep speed going on the other side…less loss of momentum. And as I like to say in this regard, “the faster you go, the faster you go.”
In other words, when you’re losing speed because you’re welded to the saddle, you end up going slower up that hill which slows your overall time on the bike, and may also create more fatigue.
One other MAJOR benefit of standing is that you’re using MORE glute and hamstring. Those are large muscles that will help, if you let them.
The key? You must train it. You must practice it.
Great racing is about having as many tools in your overall athletic toolbox, as possible. The more tools you have, the better you’re able to meet any challenge you face out there…
Stand, sit, repeat. Be a better rider. Use more glute.