Cycling Posture

In Articles on May 5, 2011 at 1:43 AM
 
Cycling form and posture is an often overlooked necessity for just about any cyclist. If you spend enough time in the saddle, I think most people eventually figure out what good posture is about, mainly out of necessity from being uncomfortable. There are three major points of interest I want to talk about, but let me start off by saying that if you can’t physically do what I’m recommending here, then your bike fit could probably use an overhaul.Let’s start with an easy one, heel drop. Lots of cyclists fall into the habit of pedaling with their toe pointed like a ballerina doing a pirouette. I’m not sure why it happens, it’s definitely not a lazy habit, the only thing I can think of is that it’s a compensatory mechanism from riding with your saddle too high. None the less, it’s a bad habit. When you pedal with your toe pointed for a long period of time, you’re calves will tend to tire and also to shorten. The calf is connected to the hamstring, the hamstring to the glutes, and the glutes to the the back. A shortness or spasm in your calf could cause lots of problems elsewhere. Triathletes should take special note here, getting off the bike with your calf all bound up is no way to set yourself up for a good run. There’s also a marginal amount of power to be gained both on the down stroke and the upstroke from using your calf and shin muscles, with your toe pointed however, you’re not going to utilize any of that.Take away point – Try to keep the foot more or less level throughout the pedal stroke. If this is very difficult your saddle is probably too high. You should be able to do this without rocking your hips.

The next point isn’t all that easy to describe or for some to grasp, but it’s pretty important. This point has to deal with riding with an anterior (frontal) pelvic tilt.

Here’s a little visual aid to show what I’m talking about, I stole this image from a website created by the great fit guru, John Cobb (http://johncobbresearch.wordpress.com/)

The image on the right (bad) is how most people sit on a bike seat. Sitting in this position compresses your stomach, your hip flexors and can put undue strain on your lower back. The image on the left shows the better way of sitting on a bike. That rectangular thing labeled with the letter A is your pelvis. When sitting the right way on your bike, the pelvis is tilted forward and your first few vertebrae are in line with the rest of your back. When sitting on a bike seat in the wrong position, you’re pelvis is upright and all the bend for your upper body comes from your spine…not so good for you. The problem here is that it’s not easy to sit in the right position, it takes a bit of strength from the lower back. In many people, especially those new at cycling, these muscles are pretty week. If you’re not out running or hiking a bunch and if you spend most of your time with your feet up at your desk, then these muscles probably could use a tune up. My favorite torture device to whip these muscles into shape is the roman chair (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_chair).

One reason I suspect that many people fall into this bad habit is the fact that so many people have comfort issues with their bike seats. Sitting with your pelvis vertical (bad) makes the seat a bit more comfortable, it puts more of a flat surface against the seat (look at the picture). When you tilt the pelvis forward, you are putting a rounded surface against the seat, which leads to more pressure. One thing that can be done to remedy this somewhat is to tilt the saddle nose down a little bit. A little bit of tilt goes a long way for comfort.

Take away point – Keep your spine in line with your pelvis when riding. Try to think of putting an arch in your lower back to engage the lower back muscles, then back off the arch a little bit.

The third piece of the puzzle has to do with your arms. Many people new to road bikes are so scared of the new found speed that they hold on to the bars with a death grip. This isn’t necessarily good for bike handling or for your body! If you ride either a road or triathlon bicycle, your arms should be as relaxed as possible.

On a road bike, this means dropping your elbows and keeping a nice bend in your arm. Don’t bend your arms outwards, as this creates additional drag. In order to keep your arms relaxed, you have to support your upper body with your core, this pretty much works hand and hand with the anterior pelvic tilt described above. Keeping the arms relaxed reduces the amount of road vibration that travels up the arms and into your shoulders back and neck. Keeping the arms relaxed also creates a nice shock absorber in the case that you hit an unexpected pot hole.

On a triathlon bike, having your aero bars in the right spot is the only way to really make this possible. When the aero bars and arm rests are the appropriate distance from the saddle, your humerus (the bone that goes from your shoulder to your elbow) acts like a column and supports your upper body weight. In order for this to happen, your humerus should be at about 90 degrees from your torso. If you find that riding in your aero bars is very uncomfortable, then your aero bars should probably be adjusted. Lots of new triathletes like to slap aero bars on road bikes, this is fine, but I’d say that 90% of these people have their aero bars too far away making the position uncomfortable and unstable. Very few aero bars really work well for road bikes, my favorite fugly looking bar is the Jammer GT from profile design. It’s looks aside, it’s very adjustable and works well with most road bikes.

Take away point – Stay Loose! Your back, neck and arms will thank you.

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