PART 2: LEARNED POSITON ON THE BIKE
So you want to be healthy on the bike? Well, cycling without pain is about 50% proper bike fit and 50% body on the bike. What are that factors that help the body be pain-free and perform at a high level on the bike?
Glad you asked! They are:
- Movement variability
- Learned body positioning on the bike
Check out Part 1 to learn more about the concept of movement variability. This part of the blog I would like to focus on the learned body position on the bike.
Here I would like to convince the reader that, like any other sport, cycling is a skill sport and one must be consciously aware of what the body is doing on the bike so as not to fall in to a sub-optimal position. Cycling is a skill, not only in the aspect that one needs to stay upright on two wheels and navigate the environment keeping the rubber side down, but also a skill sport when we look at the body position on the bike. That is what I would like to focus on in this part of the blog.
So what does this mean? Essentially, when I do a bike fit, I evaluate the body off the bike, fit the bike to the body, and give the cyclist specific cues to be mindful of as they cycle. Depending on what they come in for, they may also receive specific exercises to do off the bike to improve their movement variability. If they have a significant injury or pain, then a formal session of physical therapy intervention will likely be recommended.
While there are too much variations and options to go through all the possibilities of a good bike fit session, what I would like to do is discuss the 5 most common cues I give cyclists to improve their position on the bike.
When we get on a bike, most of us just start pedaling. The position we assume is often what is the path of least resistance for the body to sink in to on the bike. This is often not ideal or optimal. Just because our body can assume a position, does not mean it is should be there or that it is a healthy position to be in.
The most common flaws I see the body on the bike doing are…
- Pointing their toes too much (staying too plantar flexed during the pedal revolution)
- Sitting on their peroneal region of the saddle (that area in between and in front of the sit bones).
- Extending their back too much (staying in excessively anterior pelvic tilt).
- Shrugging their shoulders
- Locking out or hyper-extending their elbows.
So stop doing those things! What should you be doing?
- Relax your heels down as you pedal!
- Find your sit bones on the wide part of the saddle.
- Maintain a “C” shape, rounded back posture. (What, a PT said round back? I did!)
- De-shrug those shoulders!
- Maintain a slight bend in your elbows and allow your triceps to support you. This will help with cue #4.
Let’s break those down.
- Not ideal movement: Pointing toes or keeping the foot too plantar flexed.
More ideal: Relax your heels down as you pedal.
Explanation: The calf muscles need to be a somewhat passive transfer of force during the pedal cycle, not significantly contributing to the power output. Pointing your toes and engaging the calf too much often results in calf cramping, Achilles tendon issues, metatarsal pain, and foot numbness. Rather, relax your heel to the ground as you push on the pedal. This will allow the calf to be a passive transfer of force from the hamstrings, glutes, and quads.
Additionally, if we keep the foot too plantar flexed the quad muscle will tend to over-work. If the quad is over-working, this leads to a lot of knee issues and a less efficient pedal stroke. As you allow the heel to relax down as you pedal, the hamstrings and glutes have a much better chance to work and provide power to the pedal. This will lead to a more balanced muscle recruitment pattern between the hamstring, glutes, and quads.
- Not ideal: Pressure of the saddle on your peroneal region.
More ideal: Pressure on your sit bones on the wide part of the saddle.
Explanation: The saddle is designed so that your sit bones rest on the wide part of the saddle. We do not want pressure on the peroneal region as that is where some very important nerves and blood vessels are. Pressure there results in numbness, pain, and restricted blood flow to the important bits. Pressure on your sit bones should be comfortable and allow for prolonged periods on two wheels.
If you are not feeling your sit bones, usually it is because of 1) you are sitting with your pelvis too anteriorly tilted (your back is arched, see tip to correct this below), and/or 2) the saddle is not right for you or is worn out. (If #1 is fixed and still cannot feel sit bones, time to go saddle shopping!).
- Not ideal: Extending your back too much or keeping your back flat
More ideal: Round back, “C” shape posture.
Explanation: Our back needs to assume a rounded back posture with most bike set ups. Our culture often assumes this is “bad posture” and we need to have a flat back on the bike. However, that goes against the geometry of the bike. To be comfortable and healthy on the bike, we need to feel the sit bones on the wide part of the saddle and our back needs to round forward to reach for the handle bars. Cyclists attempting to keep an arch in their back or keep the back too straight will inevitably get saddle pain or numbness, shoulder and neck pain, and potentially back issues.
So, to correct for this, maintain a slight “tail tuck” to feel your sit bones and round your back forward as you rest your hands on the bars.
- Not ideal: Shrugging your shoulders
More ideal: De-Shrug your shoulders!
Explanation: Most of us will initially adapt a position on the bike in which the shoulders shrug up and rest towards our ears. This is passively easier for our upper body, but not ideal for our joint mechanics. A position of too much shrugging often results in excessive neck tension and pain. This also often can result in tingling and numbness down the arms and hand.
Solution: Bend your elbows and relax your shoulders away from your ears.
- Not ideal: Locking out or hyper-extending your elbows
More ideal: Maintain a slight elbow bend, feel your tricep muscles support you.
Explanation: This cue goes with #4 above. Many of us will simply lock out our elbows and rely on the passive structures of our arm to hold us in position. As we lock out our elbows, our shoulders tend to shrug up. To fix this, keep a slight bend in your elbows and appreciate your triceps holding you up. The triceps will fatigue the first few rides being mindful of this, but they will soon adapt and get stronger in that position.
Realistically, these cues all go together. If we tell a cyclist to bend their elbows, the shoulders de-shrug, their back rounds a bit more, the rounding allows for sit-bone sensation, and that position allows the heels to drop down more optimally. If I have a cyclist drop their heels down more as they pedal, they more easily feel their sit bones, their back rounds, and the shoulders and elbows adapt a more relaxed posture. The opposite is also true: if back is too flat or arched, shoulders shrug, elbows hyper-extend, pelvis tilts forward, and the foot starts to point.
So if you want to be healthy on the bike, appreciate that it is 50% bike and 50% body contributing to being comfortable and powerful on the bike. For some it is all bike, for others it is all body, for most it is a combo of the two. That is why it is important to get your body and biked checked out to perform at your best on the bike.
Send me an email at CraigDeppDPT@Gmail.com with any questions or thoughts!