Instantly increase your pedal stroke power!

Oct 7, 2011 at 0:03
Oct 7, 2011
by James Wilson  
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To be a good overall mountain biker you have to be strong with both seated and standing pedaling efforts. However, each type of pedaling requires a different posture and pedaling technique. In fact, if you try to apply the wrong type of posture and technique to your efforts you'll struggle to have the most powerful pedal stroke possible.

More specifically, most riders that I talk with say that their weakest area is standing pedaling - they can not stand up and hammer for very long before they have to sit down. The main reason for this is that the way they hold themselves and power the pedal stroke when standing is robbing them of power and making it harder to stay in position. By improving your posture you can instantly add power and be able to stand up and pedal longer. This is extremely important if you race DH of 4X since you spend your whole race standing up.

In this video I go over the 3 fundamental differences between seated and standing pedaling and how you can use this knowledge to get yourself into a better position to create a powerful, efficient pedal stroke. I also touch on how this knowledge can help you shape your training program to more effectively address your weak link. Apply these tips next time you are out on the bike and see how much of a difference improving your posture on the bike can make.

Views: 21,060    Faves: 82    Comments: 4

MTB Strength Training Systems is the world leader in integrated performance training programs for the unique demands of mountain biking. As the strength and conditioning coach for the Yeti World Cup Team and 3 National Championships, his programs have been proven at the highest levels. James has helped thousands of riders just like you improve their speed, endurance and skills on the trail. Visit to sign up for the free Trail Rider Fundamentals Video Mini-Course.

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  • + 23
 Just want to let you know james i really appreciate these videos, there very informative and helpful. Keep up the good work.
  • + 1
 certainly explains my fat gut despite all the riding i do........
  • + 13
 How can you take advice from a man in flip flops..... Al least put some clipless shoes on
  • + 2
  • + 2
 I really like these videos and always take note of what James says. I feel like his tips (especially the cornering article) have made me a better rider by helping me focus on improving my form rather than simply charging laps clueless to the many mistakes I was making. I have realized that your riding progression is limited if your technique sucks.
  • + 6
 Good video. Could use more stuff like this and less goods advertisements.
  • + 3
 He could have just said move your seat forward and use a short stem it gives you the best of both sitting and standing on an xc bike or just ride a dirt jump bike everywhere this works for me.
  • + 1
 or ride bmx
  • + 1
 Agreed. Most people that learned BMX know how to get out of the saddle and pedal.
  • + 6
 It's about time someone paid attention to this aspect of DH racing.
  • + 1
 sometimes these videos help me but this one didnt acctually. acctually just a little but. i kinda already new everything he said and plus i don have a xc bike i do downhill so.. vary good vid if you didnt know eny of this stuff
  • + 4
 Great techniques, Ill be sure to try them out next time im on the trails
  • + 1
 I find James' techniques to be very effective. I know allot of riders that use them as well, and I see nothing but progress from it. Keep rockin' James!
  • + 1
 ye does come up with some bad ideas as well as good, like arms straight for turning in an old vid..
  • - 3
 I find it veryhard to take this guy seriously as a "world leader in integrated performance training programs" when he apparently doesn't understand biomechanics. The sandals and ghetto-fabulous wooden bike stand don't help his cause much either... dude's a "world leader" and can't even borrow a trainer to demonstrate pedaling techniques?

It's also worth noting that this information is really pretty useless.... for one, it's actually nearly impossible to get out of the saddle without bringing the hips forward unless you're making a concerted effort to do so. Since your arms don't increase in length and the pedals stay in the same location relative to your hands, standing up necessarily forces your hips forward or your ass up and arms to lock. Sure, if you try this in a parking lot it'll feel better but the reality is if you're on a trail riding with your ass up and your arms locked you're going to be more cocerned with how to stop crashing all the time than how to generate more power from your pedal stroke. Also, all this talk about 'using your hips more effectively' is a complete biomechanical fail... Apart from the flexibility of your hips contributing to cadence and saddle position, they play virtually no role in the pedaling motion as your hip muscles don't engage significantly unless your legs are extended laterally, like making a cutback while running... since your pedals are never more than a few degrees outside of your hips, they don't do much at any point on the bike... they're engaged most in cornering actually, when driving your outside foot through a turn with your bike leaned under you creating that lateral extension which engages the hips.
  • + 6
 maybe everyone should man up and learn to pedal by having some actual muscle on their legs~?
  • + 2
 All of his talk seams pointless really, all accept the fact that if all or most of your going hard and long training is done sitting, you won't be much good at going hard for long standing. The reason you want to be good at both is because when your using the muscles for standing your giving the sited muscles some re-leaf and vise-verse . So make sure you train both and your good.
  • + 2
 as much as you poo poo it, when you think about it, he's right: I've noticed the same thing of my own accord. I use a dirt jump bike for everything pretty much, so no sitting down and that has forced me to sit a little more forward. My brother, is the complete opposite and stands with up with his back straight and his arms bent, he looks stupid and when I try the same position I feel unbalanced and struggle to pedal, pushing forward compresses the forks more aswell.

ok so his demo isn't perfect, but you get the idea but obviously you still move around to balance the bike, and nobody's forcing you to have your arms locked, just a little straighter than the 60 to 90 degrees they are at when sitting.

finally have you ever tried a) getting a mountain bike into a cycle trainer, b) standing up on one and feeling anything like stable, let alone pedalling whilst standing up (not too bad on a road bike but they are lighter, have narrower bars and fit the trainers better.
  • + 3
 LMAO at the neg props... hater's gon' hate but facts is facts.

My point is he's confusing basic riding technique for some sort of pedaling epiphany, which it simply isn't. The biggest advantages in body position aren't coming from gaining pedaling power, they're from gaining stability and control. If you're rookie enough to have body position that bad, then maximizing pedal power is the least of your issues.

And actually, the muscles you use standing up are largely the same as though engaged when seated in terms of the legs, unless you ride clipped where you can maximize the additional hamstring envolvement and use the calves to further pull through the top of the stroke. From there, pretty much everything else he says is just a guy rambling about something he doesn't fully understand... I'm still laughing about the hip engagement comment... The only muscle you use pedaling that coud even be argued to be a part of the hips would be your gluteus maximus and that, as its name says, is actually one of the gluteal muscles.

And, finally, yes I have tried a) getting a mountain bike into a cycle trainer, b) standing up pedaling on a mtn bike in said trainer. It's also fairly obvious that he could just as easily have used any type of bike for his demonstration if that was the big issue. A hardtail XC bike goes into a trainer and rides in one every bit as easily as a road bike.
  • + 2
 Now in your opinion, how would a pedaling motion look like without activating the glut max? All that your quads do is extending your lower leg in relation to the upper leg. But the quads will do nothing what so ever to extend your upper leg in relation to your hip. So this motion would at best uneffective if not impossible on a bike.
The glut max will contibute with about 80 % (peak) of its maximal normailized emg activity to the cycling activity and the vastus med and lat around 90% (peak). Read on here as example:

"Adjusted saddle position counteracts the modified muscle activation patterns during uphill cycling" Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology
Volume 21, Issue 5, October 2011, Pages 854-860
  • + 1
 @Goose... I never discounted the role of the glutes in the pedaling motion, was only saying that they're not "hip" muscles really. I suppose you could stretch the definition to include the glutes but, for the video, he'd have been far better off saying glutes & hamstrings since that's what we're really talking about. I would totally agree with you that the glutes, along with the hamstrings, provide significant driving force through the pedal stroke... and that the further ahead of the bb your hips are, the more effective they are as well. Wasn't trying to imply otherwise.
  • + 1
 dude, glutes are perhaps THE most important of all hip muscles
  • + 1
 Glutes, as the name should imply, are a part of the gluteal muscles, not the hips... and even if you're willing to extend the definition to include the glutes or even quads... Saying the "hips" still refers to about 15 or so muscles that have nothing to do with pedaling so it's pretty poor expertise coming from a "world leader"...
  • + 1
 You still missed the point. Im not trying to be mean here, but that logic is flawed. By calling them gluteals, that does not discount them as hip muscles. Thats like me saying, quadriceps arent muscles for the knee man, they are quadriceps! Glutes originate off the pelvis and sacrum and attach on various points of the femur. Their action creates movement and stabilization at the hip joint. So yes they are hip muscle, just as the quadriceps create movement at the knee and could be reffered to as muscles in knee movement. World leader or not, James is correct in reffering the them as such.
  • + 1
 No he's not... The "hips" refer collectively to a group of muscles ranging from 14-21 or so muscles depending on what you accept as defining the hips... even if you accept the minimum and include the glutes in that, he's refering to 13 other muscles that have nothing to do with pedaling strength. So... regardless, he's wrong in saying "hips". If, as most modern physicians do, you accept that the "hips" refer only to those muscle groups which are responsible for lateral motion then the glutes aren't even considered to be a part of the "hips"... So either way, the "hips" collectively, as I said, play little role beyond stabilization of the core in pedaling.

Whether it's due to ignorance or just laziness, he's saying hips when he should be saying something much more specific... it's basically like you going to the doctor for a torn ACL and him diagnosing you with a "leg injury"... even if you accept it as generally accurate, it's hardly expert. Or... more specific to this case here, if you were to go to the doctor with a torn gluteal muscle, he damn sure shouldn't diagnose you with a "torn hip" now should he?
  • + 1
 So to clarify, your displeased that hes refferring to powering the movement with the hips, instead of saying with glut max?
Glut max is the prime, and arguably the only, hip extensor. So perhaps he was assuming we would understand the hips to be glut max as he was referring to hip extension.
I dont think thats worth being upset over.

Sincr MDs seem to be your gold standard, I know no sport physicians who refer to hips as the lateral movers only. I have never even encountered in any studies,reference to hip muscles only being the lateral rotators. Not from a single anatomist, anatomy text, chiro md or physio. If you can list for me these 14-21 muscles that act on the hip, primarly as lateral rotators ill be suprised. Theres not that many. By referring to only lateral movement, youd be ignoring muscles that contribute to the hips other ranges of motion.
And Glut med is involved in lateral motion (abduction), its a huge target muscle for premier athletes and rehab.
I agree the hip hinge can contribute to core stability in pedalling, as it allows the spine to remain unhinged.
  • + 1
 I really don't want to argue with you about something that was only peripheral to my original point... the hips, as the dozen's of physicians I work around daily would define them, do not include the muscles already defined in other groups... from what I get of your definition, it sounds like you would even extend the group to include the hamstrings since you're apparently including the extensors. That definition is antiquated but I see where you're coming from. Currently, you wouldn't include the extensors in discussions of this type since they are comprised entirely of muscles from other already defined groups... Regardless of which definition you want to use, it's still a broad generalization made by a supposed expert. Even if I accept your definition, I still don't accept that I should take advice from someone who apparently doesn't understand the muscle groups well enough to get beyond such a broad generalization. Likewise, since the gluteals are highly engaged regardess of whether you're seated or standing and only engage further when you stand up he isn't even identifying the muscles which are only minimally engaged when seated that are suddenly expected to fire when you stand so theres tons being entirely left out. If you want to consider this guy an expert, go ahead... I consider his knowledge to be questionable and his professionalism lacking based upon the video he chose to submit. If this is the image he's looking to put forth, I as a consumer find it falling far short of being representative of an expert in his field. I'm not saying he won't get you results if you hire him, I have no idea... All I'm saying is that this guy is not presenting himself as an expert in any way in my opinion. Maybe I'm picky but I expect specifics when dealing with an expert and I'd be put off as a customer if my own bike mechanic, bike fitter, personal trainer, etc presented themselves in the same way.
  • + 1
 So in response to paragraph one, I agree this is getting old and lets wrap this up. Im just trying to consider your definition, but it still doesnt make sense.... excluding glutes because they are gluteals just doesnt make sense. Thats like exluding superior, inferior gemellus , piriformis, and quadratus femoris because they are external rotators, or exluding rectus femoris psoas and iliacus becuase they are hip flexors. Maybe you can clarify by giving me a list of what you conisder to be hip muscles. And yes I would include extensors of the hip in discussions of this type, even if they overlap with another joints function. I agree things get vague with the hamstrings, as they dont technically cross the hip joint, yet they can at times function in hip extension given their origin. In response to the paragraphs 2 and 3, I dont really care, I wasnt arguing to defend james as a world leader. But I do appreciate someone trying to bring mtb training to a more functional realm, and away from one of body building.
  • + 2
 experts only speak expert language to other experts... he's probably just dumbing it down a bit
  • + 1
 Does anyone know what kind of seat post (brand) his got on his bike?
  • + 0
 Thanks a lot James, great tips!

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