Maybe you learned the basics of balancing, steering and braking decades ago. But there are nuances to good cycling form that you probably never learned when swerving down the pavement in your banana seat.
If you spend hours in the saddle every week in pursuit of better fitness, you need to take your cycling form seriously. Here’s why your form matters, and how to fix it.
Why is good cycling form important?
During a 50-minute ride, you can spin the pedals 4,000 times. That’s 4,000 reps of a single exercise.
Do it right, and cycling will build endurance, strength, and power. But if your form is even slightly off, this 50-minute ride offers 4,000 chances to sustain an overuse injury.
“Cycling with incorrect form can often lead to discomfort like lower back pain if you’re too far off the handlebars,” says BODi trainer Justin Flexen.
Other positioning errors include placing your seat too close to your handlebars, which can lead to knee pain; or placing your seat too low, which can lead to hip pain.
But injury prevention isn’t the only reason to focus on proper cycling form and setup. “Good form ensures a comfortable and efficient ride,” adds Flexen. This translates to more speed, strength and fitness, not to mention a whole lot more fun.
4 tips for good cycling form
Here’s how to make sure your form stays in focus throughout your journey.
1. Adjust the appropriate seat height
Your legs are strongest near the locked position, so adjust your saddle (seat) height to take advantage of this.
“Riders often position their saddle too low,” says Flexen. This can lead to knee, hip and lower back pain, not to mention slower and less efficient pedaling. “More often than not, a higher seat is a much more comfortable and solid position,” adds Flexen.
Flexen recommends raising your saddle to hip height when standing alongside your bike. Make any necessary adjustments from there.
2. Keep your hips level
When rolling, your weight should rest evenly on both seat bones, with minimal shifting to the left or right. If you feel sideways movement in your hips with each stroke, especially if it’s irregular, you’ll likely develop lower back pain over time.
The fix: Stretch your hips carefully before each ride, pulling each knee towards your chest to release the tension that is destabilizing your hips.
Still swinging left and right? Try the next step…
3. Pay attention to your hands
Of course, cycling is a lower body sport. But the positioning of your hands determines the angle of your torso, which, in turn, determines how much power your hips can generate.
Position the saddle so that you can reach the handlebars without lower back pain and without shrugging your shoulders. “You should be able to rest your hands comfortably at the base of the handlebars,” says Flexen. “You should be able to lift your chest and drop your shoulders down and away from your ears with ease.”
4. Step back when standing
Standing tall in the saddle and putting your full weight into every pedal stroke, gives you a critical power boost when accelerating, traversing a steep climb or pushing on a short climb.
But you have to keep your hips in the right place, says Flexen. “Many riders shift their weight forward, away from the saddle,” says Flexen. This unnecessarily stresses the knees.
Instead, he says, “Keep your hips back so you maintain contact with the saddle.” This allows your knees to stay behind your toespreventing pain and irritation of your joints.