Strategies for Strength: The Cheek to Cheek Technique

I’m surprised at times with the number of people who do not stand while climbing. There is a small group of cyclists who believe it is inefficient, which is not the case if done properly. The majority of people that do not like to stand claim they feel awkward out of the saddle and that it drives their heart rate through the roof. Some believe they don’t have the strength to stand. It is not an issue of strength but technique. Today’s we’ll discuss a strategy called Cheek to Cheek, which will help your riders’ form while climbing. 

Relax and Let the Bike (or Body) Move

For some reason, a good number of riders try to keep their upper body very still when they come out of the saddle. One can literally see them struggling to keep the bike (outside) or their body (inside) from moving side to side. Resisting the natural side-to-side body/bike movement when pedaling out of the saddle causes one to inappropriately utilize a much greater amount of muscle than is necessary. This is when it becomes inefficient and often results in a tremendous amount stress placed on the shoulders and arms. The rider appears to be in search of the nearest restroom.

When riding outside, the issue can stem from being in too easy of a gear. Basically, there is not enough gear (or resistance) to support the body weight of the rider, making a standing effort very unstable. This is also often the case in indoor cycling, where the lack of resistance causes premature fatigue and a very floppy riding technique. 

Sometimes, however, regardless of the amount of resistance, indoor riders still try to keep from moving, as if they are frozen. Unfortunately, this technique of “isolating” the upper body to keep it still is a common and even popular technique used by uneducated instructors, claiming it “works the core.”

Balancing Act

If a rider’s body weight is not balanced over the bike, they will struggle when standing for two reasons: (1) it requires more upper-body strength to stabilize themselves, and (2) if they lean too far back, the nose of the saddle will be between their legs, inhibiting side-to-side movement. All of this extra effort will waste energy and make standing much harder. As a result, heart rate can increase greatly. This sharp increase in heart rate can make it appear that standing requires so much more strength when in fact the issue is often just poor technique.

Cheek to Cheek

Be sure to check out our other strategies:

Strategies for Strength: Counting Pedal Strokes

Strategies for Strength: Benchmarks and Rewards, Pt. 1

Strategies for Strength: Benchmarks and Rewards, Pt. 2

Strategies for Strength: A Sprinter’s Take on Climbing Strategies

Strategies for Strength: Climbing at Tempo

Strategies for Strength: What’s Your Mantra?

Strategies for Strength: The Wisdom of Yoda

Strategies for Strength: Activate Those Hip Flexors

Strategies for Strength: Projection into the Future

Strategies for Strength: Synchronized Breathing


  1. I use a variation of cheek to cheek, which I believe I learnt from Jennifer many years ago. It makes perfect sense to me, and as Jennifer points out, ought to place you in the correct position.

    It has helped to correct some riders which found the pleasure of efficiency and since have increased time out of the saddle – appropriately, of course.

    It always amazes me which words resonate with people and sometimes saying the same thing using different words or images, speaks volumes.

  2. Have been utilizing the same verbiage with my students for a while now…never ceases to amaze those folks who have taken classes before (sometimes years worth) but were never been coached properly how to climb. Not easy to break old habits but when they look down at the increases in wattage gained by being more efficient, they quickly see the “light”.

  3. Nice article, Tom. I always encourage my riders to be aware of their position when out of the saddle- never thought of ‘cheek to chekk’ tho! Guess what I’ll be coaching in the morning?! 😉 Thx….Steve

  4. I heard an instructor say “cheek to cheek” is what it feels like when a dog is sniffing your butt–just a kiss on each cheek. LOL! Only a dog owner would understand.

  5. “cheek to cheek” That’s a great way to cue students. I’ll try that tomorrow in my class.

  6. Thanks everyone. It is always great when we can find ways to connect our riders to how they are riding (and to the nose of their saddle). We appreciate the feedback, even as riders try these suggestions. It leads to greater knowledge and understanding.

    Cheers, Tom.

  7. Used the “cheek to cheek” cue in last week’s class. One of my male riders commented at the end of class that this really helped him in his standing climb technique. Thanks Tom!

  8. You two are worth your weight in gold…if no one has told you yet. Can’t wait to use this in class tomorrow evening! I have several standing climbs planned and I’ve spent the last 4-6 weeks emphasizing pedal stroke and not locking out the knees at the bottom(thanks to that AWESOME Magic Coaching Minute!)…time to add to it. 😀

  9. I have used a variation of cheek to cheek for several years now to help cue proper form when standing. Many indoor riders have a habit of standing up too straight; or pushing their body (butt) back over the saddle. I remind participants, among other cues, that they should feel the tip of the saddle kissing each side of their butt (not at the same time) as they pedal.

  10. Also, I can also see this as a great way to coach correct body position when standing. If you don’t feel the nose of the saddle, you’re probably too far forward.

  11. Three years ago, Tom Scotto came out to Vail to visit (following a Stage 5 certification he did in Denver). He rented a bike and I took him up Vail pass, a 9-mile climb. While I had the advantage of altitude acclimation (we started at 8,100 feet and rode to 10,400) he still kicked my butt on the climb. One of the first thing he noticed when I stood was that I didn’t let my bike move enough from side to side. Funny thing is, I thought I was doing it. When I tried what he suggested, it felt strange at first, but now, 3 years later, I think of him every time I get out of the saddle and make sure I relax as my bike swings gently side to side! Yes, even 2 weeks ago on Ventoux I heard Tom’s voice in my head.

    I love that cue of cheek to cheek! Tom is coming out again next week, and yes, we’ll be riding a couple of epic climbs around here to view some of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge stages. Maybe we’ll have to shoot a video example of “cheek to cheek”! 😉

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