Cycling 101: Posture

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As the ride leader for a bike tour outfit that travels all over the country, I've had the opportunity to observe just about every riding style there is. And while our focus is more on enjoying the scenery than winning Strava segments, we recognize that poor form on the bike can ruin a relaxed ride as much as it can hurt your chances in a race. Knee pain, a stiff neck and an aching lower back make for a rough day in the saddle whether you're pushing the pace or poking along.

To help reduce discomfort during your rides, we recommend paying close attention to your posture. There's certainly no substitute for time in the saddle when it comes to improving your cycling, but putting in the miles without good form can actually exacerbate problem areas. That's why it's important to get in the habit of periodically checking your posture in the following areas as you ride:

KNEES: Are my knees pointing out? Riding with your knees pointing out not only increases the chances of knee pain, but it also reduces the power in each pedal stroke. Keeping your knees in line with your feet will take pressure off the knees.

BACK: Is my back arching? Having a "turtle back" that bows away from the bike is typical in new cyclists and also seems to be a common occurrence when cyclists get fatigued. That's because it takes less effort to rest heavy on the handlebars and to relax your core. Unfortunately, that easy posture will trigger all kinds of back and neck pain as the miles add up. Improving your core strength and putting a slight inward curve in your lower back (as if you're sticking your butt out) will help take pressure off of your back. Also focus on throwing your shoulders back and pushing your chest out. Your front should be as open as possible, not closed under the turtle shell.

SHOULDERS: Are my shoulders raised? One of the dangers of the "turtle back" mentioned above is that it tends to put your shoulders near your ears. The more you raise your shoulders, the more likely you are to end up with neck pain. Lowering your shoulders and pushing them back limits the amount of tension that can be transferred into your neck. Again, the key is to have an open front with the chest out and the shoulders low and back.

ARMS: Are my elbows stiff? Straight arms are another common occurrence in new and fatigued cyclists. While it's definitely easier to rest your weight on straight arms than it is on bent arms, locked elbows will transfer all the vibration from the handlebars straight into your neck and shoulders. Straight arms also tend to push the shoulders up toward your ears, further contributing to neck pain. Putting a slight bend in your elbows will help diffuse the vibration that makes its way to your neck and will also give you greater control over the bike. (Recruit your core muscles to help take some of the pressure off of your arms in supporting your upper body.)

HANDS: Are my knuckles white? Another key to reducing tension in your neck and shoulders is to keep a relaxed grip on the handlebar. Holding on for dear life and white knuckling the handlebar is a waste of energy and a source of neck pain. In addition to relaxing your grip, move your hands into different positions on the bar over the course of the ride. Think of your core and hips as the primary drivers, with your hands just there for fine-tuning the steering.

I would also strongly recommend getting a proper bike fit at your local bike shop. Having the seat at the right height and the right distance from the handlebars is critical to avoiding injury and having an enjoyable ride. With the right fit and good posture, the only time you should feel pain is when you decide to push your limits on a steep climb or a fast sprint!

Enjoy the ride!

Shannon Burke is the owner of Velo View Bike Tours, offering basic skills clinics and personal instruction, guided Central Texas road & mountain bike rides, and four and five-day bike vacations in some of the most beautiful places in the country.

Cycling 101: Posture - christophereger - cyc-48.jpg
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6 COMMENTS
Posted: 
March 19, 2014  •  11:16 AM
Employing good posture and proper form is key to rider comfort and safety, but one issue missed in this article is the need for riders to have options for rider position, especially on long rides.
Having the ability to change seating surfaces, hand position, foot position is of vital importance for staying pain free and avoiding injury.
Loaded long distance riding requires that a person change these interfaces in order to avoid repetitive injuries and strain.
Simply carrying a seat pad, employing flip peddles, changing to a trekking or adjustable style handlebar, or carrying two types of gloves and shoes can help keep blood flowing to places that otherwise would become strained from overuse.
Proper form is key, but learning to employ proper form over many positions, and avoiding repetitive use/strain injuries is what separates weekend pack racers from long distance touring riders.
 
Posted: 
March 27, 2014  •  01:23 PM
Shannon,
thanks for all your recommendations.
There is another way to get rid of all those pains you mention, switch to a recumbent bike. They are fast and confy. Take your time to read following thread:
http://cruzbike.com/tropical-century
 
Posted: 
March 29, 2014  •  11:39 AM
@mzweili

Recumbents are a blast to be sure. Having owned a Rans Rocket and V-Rex, I can attest with first hand experience that they are fast and comfortable, for a while...

Recumbents are not as comfortable during long range trips however, nor are they as maneuverable or safe. I know of people who tour with them, but their numbers are few, very few.

In my experience conventional upright bicycles are superior for touring, commuting, and trekking for so many reasons that the reasons can not be listed in this short post without being verbose.

Recumbents are great, but uprights are far more versatile, maneuverable and safer by orders of magnitude.
 
Posted: 
May 6, 2014  •  08:06 PM
Bike Ergonomics is a very good topic, found these two free ebooks on the subject that provide information for beginner to advanced riders as well as different types of riding styles including comfort bikes or racing. Nice article, thanks for sharing.
http://www.biketourings.com/3/post/2014/05/ergonomic-bike-comfort-and-two-free-ebooks-by-rideon.html
 
Posted: 
June 1, 2014  •  05:57 PM
Great suggestions for improving posture. They'll come in handy as I'm a new rider. The only suggestion I would make is to pick up a cycling book that includes how to fit yourself on a bike. I had a recent experience with a local bike store that's not new that demonstrated those dudes had no idea what they were talking about. Was having a lot of discomfort even after attending their "Fitting Clinic".
After some adjustments based on a popular bicycling book, my riding is much improved.
 
Posted: 
June 22, 2014  •  10:46 PM
Great, You maybe find saddle angle is also important, also decision Comfort.
 
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