A novel approach to learning ‘correct’ cycling posture.
‘ Hey honey, sit up straight! ‘
‘ Don’t slouch at the dinner table. ’
I’m sure you’ve all heard these words before, either from a parent or relative, but there is some good truth to that sage advice — The simple act of sitting upright places our spine in the safest, strongest, and most balanced position to resist the effects of gravity and strain on our bodies. . . and yes, it does just look better at the dinner table when you have company over — Thanks, Mom!
In a world where the majority of us find ourselves on a screen (of some kind) on a daily basis, the tendency for us to slouch is at an all-time high. And as we know, these promlonged, slouched, head-protruding postures can eventualy lead to pain and injury.
We’ve all been there, and generally know then what ‘good’ posture is in our daily lives, right? Now, I’m sure we could all benefit from working on our posture, but here’s the key: at least we know what this generally looks like, and can correct it, right?
But… Do you have any general idea on what ‘good posture’ is while riding a bike? Hmmm, probably not.
So let’s talk about it.
So what, generally speaking, is viewed as ‘good’ cycling posture?
Let’s start with the simplified, global overview, and my personal answer to this question:
‘Good’ / ‘Proper’/’Correct’ / Ideal cycling posture is the best posture available (bike vs rider vs other) and accessible to the rider, that meets their goals for riding, and for best-advantage in the cycling discipline of their choice — without any unwanted pain or something that would cause them to retire / withdraw due to symptoms.
And in my mind, the long-term process to mastering ‘good posture’ on the bike includes multiple components:
- Understanding and adapting to optimal cycling posture (more on this coming up next)
- BikeFit adjustments / refinement
- Bodily strength/ flexibility / coordination
- Training concepts and appropriate loading strategies to increase tissue tolerance to increased demands from load, terrain, or difficulty.
So let’s start with the general concept for understanding cycling posture, and start with what is referred to as neutral spine positioning — and oh, this concept is applicable really for any style or riding and/or bike, too!
For the sake of ‘proper posture’ both on and off the bike, I like to start with the ‘hip hinge’ movement (see below) to help a rider learn the optimal lower / mid back / neck posture, and then go from there.
Step 1. Fig 1 illustrates how using a stick to help teach the rider how to ‘pivot’ from the hips, while keeping the spine from excessive flexing (or extending)- with contact maintained on head and sacrum.
Start in a standing position, and position the stick as shown, contacting the back of the head and the sacrum. Now attempt to ‘bend’ forwards with knees slightly bent, while maintaining contact posints with the stick. Eventually you’ll learn how to ‘sit back’ and lean to keep the spine straight, with weight more to the heels of the feet- this simple movement strategy is the key to comfort, strength/power, and optimized posture on the bike.
The amount you can lean forwards becomes then related to hamstring flexibility, and gives you an idea of how ‘aggressive’ of a position you can likely tolerate.
Step 2. Fig 2 then removes the stick, and allows you to feel what muscle recruitment this requires to ‘feel’ this position — A ‘hinged’ back/spine is a ready, strong and a stable one — and the underlying base that allows you to generate power from the legs to the pedals. As the the old saying goes:
‘You may have have a Ferrrari engine, but if it’s built on a flimsy, plastic chassis — it’s useless!”
’Holding position for up to 1–2 minutes will really let you understand the demands of the ‘core’ and ‘posterior chain’ (back muscles, glutes, hamstrings) on the system . . . and before the rider even gets on the bike!
Step 3. Lastly, Fig 3 then places the rider on the bike, to see if they can ‘access’ that positioning, which includes rotating the pelvis forwards on the saddle — It is at this moment, and feeling how the saddle/bars positioning either supports or detracts from this ‘hip hinge’ posture. This is why BikeFit plays such a huge role on establishing, and maintaining optimal posture!
And as I mentioned above, regardless of what type or style of bike, this general concept of ‘neutral spine’ can be applied to any rider’s optimal posture, and especially if suffering symptoms while riding.
The key components here with using the ‘hip hinge’ strategy is about keeping the spine from overly flexing and collapsing, which places more stress on the non-contractile tissues (i.e. ligaments and joints) and which is also the most common cause for lower to mid back pain while riding.
By starting first with spinal posture before you even get on the bike, it teaches you what you are aiming for when you actually get on the bike.
So, grab a stick and give it a go — It’s a surprisingly easy, yet challenging movement pattern to help you understand what that elusive ‘correct posture’ on the bike feels like. The ‘hip hinge’ might just be the key to unlocking your goals of strong, confident, and comfortable cycling!
— Kevin Schmidt, PT, MSPT, Cert Bike-Friendly Physio is an everyday cyclist, entrepreneur, Physiotherapist and Bike Fitter with a passion for elevating the field of healthcare in managing cycling injury and Bike Fit. In 2012 he founded Pedal PT: Bike Friendly Physical Therapy in Portland, Oregon. Kevin has fully dedicated himself to the ‘bike life’ and hasn’t driven a car to a workday in over 14 years.
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