Why Correct Cycling Posture Matters & How to Create It

Jan 31, 2024
Cyclist posture

 Being able to achieve and maintain proper cycling posture throughout the course of a ride is easier said than done. As many cyclists know, the aches we feel in our hips, backs and necks are very real, indeed. Mitigating the negative effects of these postures, while at the same time optimizing our performance on the bike is a tricky problem that deserves a closer look.

General Posture Vs. Cycling Posture

A good cycling posture is different from good posture in general - this is the first distinction that needs to be clearly made. Proper posture helps to efficiently distribute load across the joints, while proper cycling posture enhances overall performance on the bike; two very different things. One is for health, the other for a specific type of performance.

We differentiate the two for the following reason; cycling postures create muscle imbalance throughout the body. Tight hips, stiff quads, painful lower backs and tense necks are all likely outcomes for those who ride long-term. It’s safe to say that if you’re reading this article, you are, or will soon be, one of those people. 

Only one helps the other, any guesses as to which? 

Cycling can lead to structural adaptations in the spine of cyclists when compared to non-cyclists. These adaptations can include an increase in pelvic tilt and increased lumbar flexion (lower back rounding) capacity during trunk-flexed positions. Thoracic kyphosis (mid-back rounding) in the standing position can also become more pronounced. 

 

Cycling posture vs. general healthy posture. (Credit: Adobe Stock)

What Is Proper Cycling Posture?

To get the right positioning on the bike, you first need to make sure the bike is fitted to you. Investing in a professional bike fit is the first step towards pain-free riding. If your rig isn’t adjusted to your unique frame, you run the (likely) risk of overloading certain muscles while underusing others. Tissues that would otherwise be helpful get ignored.

You cannot out-muscle the frame of the bike; if it doesn’t fit, it won’t work…and you’ll get hurt. When the bike has been modified to fit your body, you’ll more naturally fall into that elegant gliding position we see out on the professional circuit.

If we don’t implement the necessary postural changes to our riding technique, our bodies will break down rather quickly. Distorted muscle function in the core, inverted breathing patterns, and muscle imbalance throughout the body doesn’t have to be our destiny.

Tips to Fix Your Cycling Posture

Let’s go through the two main adjustments you’ll make on a bike, the saddle and handlebars, to determine the right position for each component. We’ll also talk about some of the consequences you can expect for your cycling posture if you fail to consider these recommendations, as well as some of the pains and injuries that tend to occur as a result.

 

(Credit: Adobe Stock)

Saddle

The height of your saddle should be such that your knee is slightly bent at the bottom of your pedal stroke with the ball of your foot on the pedal. Ideally, your knee should be lined up directly on top of the pedal spindle when both pedals are at the same height. The saddle itself should also be positioned horizontally and parallel to the ground; not tipped forward or backward.

A low saddle height or a seat that’s too far forward puts added stress onto your knees and reduces your power output. It also flexes your hips far further than they would have to otherwise. These mechanisms can, and often do, contribute to conditions like patellofemoral pain syndrome, anterior hip pain, anterior pelvic tilt, lower back pain, and quad stiffness (to name a few).

Handlebars

Handlebar position is one of the most important determinants of cycling posture. The lower the handlebars are, the more aggressive your torso angle will be, which is good for aerodynamics, but much harder on your back. They should be positioned so that you can keep a slight bend in your elbow when the arms are straightened. A neutral spine should also be achievable.

For beginner riders, it is suggested to ease into the more aggressive riding positions. Low back pain is already a problem in cycling, and dropping too low too quickly increases the risk of overloading the lumbar spine. Curved handlebars are also preferred, as they keep the wrist in alignment, allowing the ulnar and radial nerves to run straight; helps avoid numbness and pain.

Correct Cycling Posture From the Pros

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  Written by Eric Lister – Certified Personal Trainer & Corrective Exercise Specialist

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