Obsessed with Cycling Drills: Standing Transitions

Indoor cycling participants love to stand in cycling classes. Let’s help them do it effectively.

Here is a great drill to sprinkle into your profiles to teach standing and sitting with control and efficacy. Once perfected, the technique will transfer over to every other drill you use that requires riders to stand.

For outdoor riders, transitioning in and out of the saddle smoothly is important for many reasons. If you stand up erratically in a group, your bike may be pushed back into a wheel behind you and cause a crash. Cyclists take note of dangerous riders and will steer clear of you whenever you ride together. (Mark my words—cyclists quickly determine who to avoid in a group ride!) In addition to avoiding the danger of an erratic bike, standing and sitting smoothly will dramatically reduce swings in intensity, improving your endurance and ability to last longer.

Indoors, we don’t need to worry about crashing (thankfully), but smooth transitions are important for intensity control and helping beginners endure an entire class. As riders learn to be smoother as they stand and sit, they will be more successful at standing for longer periods at a consistent power when it’s warranted, or at standing with an increased output of only a small but specific amount (for example, 3–5 watts) rather than a big spike.  

The Drill

Establish a moderate to moderately hard consistent climb (RPE 5–7, sub-threshold power output Zone 3 to low Zone 4). Use a longer song of 5–8 minutes that encourages a cadence between 60 and 70 rpm and doesn’t have a lot of beat drops or intensity fluctuations. Later, you can move to faster cadences of 70–85 rpm after your riders master smooth transitions at slower cadences.

After the first minute where you’ll describe the drill, ask riders to stand up for 10 pedal strokes at the beginning (or end) of every minute. Make sure they have enough resistance to support their body weight without requiring additional resistance each time they stand. Let them count their own pedal strokes—you don’t need to do it for them. They may be a few seconds off from each other, which is perfectly fine.

The idea is for riders to practice the standing and sitting in a controlled manner on their own. If you have power meters, have riders focus on minimizing the fluctuations in power—the smoother they rise, the less it will vary. (Remember, though, it will still vary slightly, even with the smoothest rider. Your goal is simply to reduce erratic changes.) Because of the feedback the power meter provides, you won’t need to cue quite as much. Without a power meter, you’ll likely need more coaching.

Every time you stand, try to lead with the opposite foot. For example, lead with the right the first time, then the left, and so on. Find the resistance required so they can stand without needing to add more to support themselves. 

After they sit back down and continue climbing in the saddle, they should maintain their same consistent power output. If you don’t have power, ask them to maintain the same sensation of effort throughout the entire song. Cadence should not fluctuate.

Keep these transition drills short. At 60 rpm, it will take 10 seconds. At 70–80 rpm, it’s only 6–7 seconds. Even though it is only a handful of seconds, this drill serves to keep riders’ minds engaged over a long song. 

Here are some technique coaching cues:

  • As you stand, lift with the legs; do not pull yourself up with the hands.
  • Lead with a different foot each time you stand.
  • Sit back gently in the saddle, as if you are sitting on an egg. Don’t allow yourself to flop back into the saddle.
  • Time your rise to step on one foot as it rolls over the top of the pedal stroke. That gives you a platform to stand on.
  • Do not unfold at the hips when you stand; maintain about the same angle of flexion that you had while seated. Do not try to stand upright—you cannot pedal effectively in a vertical stance. It reduces glute contribution, which is not what you want, especially when climbing, and the additional time it takes to unfold is wasted and ineffective.
  • In the standing position, your hips (greater trochanter) should remain directly over the bottom bracket (where the cranks meet the bike). Make sure your hips don’t move too far forward. As a guide, you should feel the nose of the saddle lightly brushing the back of the legs.
  • As you stand, watch your power output. If you were to stand for longer, you may need to add a bit more resistance to keep your power from dropping, but for these brief transitions, do your best to keep the output consistent. The smoother you are, the more consistent your power reading will be. Your power meter may be the best feedback for when you are improving in your smooth transitions.
  • If you have a heart rate monitor, observe your heart rate. The smoother and more efficient you are, the less the transition will affect the heart rate. An increase of a few beats is fine; when you sit back down try to reestablish your consistent working heart rate through deep breaths for the remainder of the minute.
  • The upper body shouldn’t swing from side to side as you stand, but you also don’t want the shoulders or trunk to be rigid. Find the balance between the two and maintain just a little bit of lateral movement.
  • Do not drop the heels when standing, and make sure the toes aren’t pointed down.
  • How smoothly can you stand? If you had a long necklace on (like Mardi Gras beads), it shouldn’t bounce or swing wildly—it would only sway gently as you stood.
  • Visualize your foot floating over the top of the pedal stroke as you stand.
  • There should be no hesitation at the top and bottom of the pedal stroke as you stand. If you feel a break even for a millisecond, your goal over the rest of the song is to focus intently on removing that hesitation.
  • Can you detect a difference between the right and left legs? If so, see if you can reduce the difference.

This is one of those drills where after just a few cues, you can stay silent for much of the song, sprinkling a few words here and there. Such is the power of giving your riders an intense focus like this—they don’t need you the entire time.

Standing Climb Form

This is an old photo from 2006 (early Schwinn Spinner® bike, old shoes, old Spinning® kit, and my old hairstyle!). I probably need to get a more recent shot, but this photo shows a good standing climb position. Note the straight back, relaxed shoulders away from the ears, slightly bent arms, and the position of the hips directly over the bottom bracket so the saddle barely grazes the back of the legs.

Are these transitions “jumps”?

A true “jump” from a cycling perspective is a powerful burst out of the saddle to overcome a big gear or a steep grade. Riders jump to accelerate and increase power so they can break away from a group of riders or bridge the gap to catch up to a group. Therefore, these smooth transitions are not “cycling” jumps per se; however, even powerful jumps are more effective when performed smoothly, so the drill helps with those as well.

In the indoor cycling realm, a Spinning “jump” is a consistent transition in and out of the saddle over two, four, eight, or more pedal strokes, often for an entire song. If you are Spinning certified and enjoy using jumps, sure, these can help your riders be smoother. On the other hand, if you use jumps a lot, you may have riders who can already transition smoothly!

Technically, though, these aren’t Spinning “jumps,” so if you don’t care for those kinds of jumps, these transitions are super helpful with improving technique and also serve to keep your riders engaged. 

This post provides you with playlists containing hundreds of song suggestions in all cadence ranges that are around 6 minutes long. The climbing ones should work well for this drill.


One Response to “Obsessed with Cycling Drills: Standing Transitions”

  1. Kelly Ellerman says:

    This is great information! I’m going to practice this myself and then I’ll be able to share with the class I teach. Thank you!

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