For many newer triathletes, finding the best riding position during an uphill can be a trial-and-error process. For long hills with a mild grade or quick up-and-over rollers, you can maintain a faster speed by staying in the aero position. But when and why does it make sense to switch to an upright or standing position for a climb?
Seated: At some point, the aerodynamic benefits of being in aero are outweighed by the increased power production and comfort that come from climbing upright or standing. The commonly cited speed in which this becomes a wash is about 12 mph. Most cyclists can generate more power when seated, so sitting up to pedal when you’re going slower than 12 mph makes sense.
Standing: If the grade becomes very steep and you’re unable to turn over a reasonable cadence (60 RPM or lower) then it’s time to think about standing. Standing allows you to generate a little more power by leveraging your weight. If you’re smaller and have less muscle mass, you might need that leverage sooner.
However, standing also usually leads to heavier breathing and higher heart rates. If you’re tackling a shorter hill and don’t mind putting in a variable effort (think hard group ride), standing for a brief period will help you get to the top more easily.
Spiking up your heart rate by getting out of the saddle in a long race, though, can quickly lead to fatigued legs. The place for standing in a long steady effort race is when you need to temporarily change up muscle recruitment patterns after being stuck in the same position for a long time. A quick bout of standing while keeping the same effort level can feel like a break.