How Important Is Your Cycling Posture?

A rounded or hunched-over position is generally synonymous with a cyclist’s posture, but it’s not necessarily the optimal position. Posture, alignment and position are popular terms with many misconceptions and strong opinions surrounding them. While your biking posture isn’t necessarily going to cause chronic pain, good positioning is key for optimizing range of motion, which keeps us safe on the bike. Also, how we position ourselves on the bike affects power production, technical ability and even mindset.

Power Production

If you study cyclists from the side, you’ll see a spectrum of back positions depending on the type of bike they’re riding. At the extremes, a beach cruiser requires a vertical position, while a time-trial bike lends to a nearly horizontal angle. Even at those extremes, most cyclists will compensate to account for their range of motion and terrain. For example, we lean slightly forward to pedal a beach cruiser up a hill, and we set up our time-trial bike slightly more upright to allow for better breathing and mobility. If we always default to an extreme bent-over position when we pedal hard, we reduce the mechanical advantage of a more open hip. To understand this, think about squatting from a deep squat with your chest against your thighs versus squatting to a quarter squat.

If you’re a cyclist who defaults to a very bent-over position, try building hip strength with squats, lunges and deadlifts while focusing on a strong posture during intervals and hard rides to optimize your position. Thinking about “breaking the bar” or pulling back on the bar can help set your shoulders and maintain a strong position.

Technical Ability

If you’re having bike-handling issues in situations like riding rock gardens, drafting or descending, your position could be responsible. In cycling, you should start seated with your head up, looking ahead; you can also stand with your elbows out, knees slightly bent and eyes looking where you want to go. Having an excessively bent-over position is a common mistake that challenges your ability to see and react to obstacles and excel at cornering. A simple cue would be to think about what’s next or simply use “head up” as your mantra through tricky terrain or hectic moments on rides.

Mindset

While it may seem off the wall, our posture can influence our emotions. Body language can be a symptom or a cause of our feelings. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk presents this idea as “power posing.” Sit upright and smile, and you’ll feel more upbeat and happier, at least temporarily. Keep this in mind the next time you’re feeling lackluster on a ride or in a race, and you might just find some energy to push harder!

Stay Safe

There will be sudden stops, endos and interactions with other riders at some point in your cycling lifetime. Preserving your off-bike range of motion helps to handle the impact of falls — for example, if you crash and your arm is forced overhead, will that hurt a bit, or will it tear your rotator cuff? Increase your range of motion by starting slowly. First, aim to get your arms over your head several times a day, building toward hanging on monkey bars. A good strength and conditioning coach can help you re-establish and train for full range of motion.

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Peter Glassford
Peter Glassford

Peter Glassford is a cycling coach and registered kinesiologist from Ontario, Canada. He travels frequently to work with athletes at races, camps and clinics. He also races mountain bikes for Trek Canada and pursues adventure in all types of movement. Follow @peterglassford on Twitter, or check out his online and in-person coaching at www.smartathlete.ca.