5 Key Elements of Correct Cycling Posture

correct cycling posture

Correct Cycling Posture

When cycling, correct posture is key to relaxation and comfort.  On long rides, comfortable cycling is essential.  Get cycling posture correct, and you will get more enjoyment out of your ride.

Let’s face it. We know pain comes with cycling.  We found that out after our first long ride.  As we increased the mileage, so did the pain.  Discovering how to gain comfort became prime.

Correct cycling posture – that reminds me of something my mom used to often say to me.  “Stand up straight.”  “Quit slouching.” I used to hate those words. But, as much as I hate those words, I now know that just like there is a correct posture for sitting, there is also a correct posture for cycling.

I took my mom’s advice and my posture improved to the point that I do not think about it anymore.

Concentrating on the following 5 elements of comfortable cycling may seem a lot to ask. However, I guarantee you, if you pay attention to these elements of correct cycling posture for three months, you will experience the joy of comfortable cycling.

There are very few new bike riders who feel comfortable on a bike for more than a few miles.  Even experienced riders often experience numb hands, sore knees, or an achy back.

Following the advice below will reduce much of that pain and numbness.

Drop and Relax Your Shoulders

“My shoulders are stiff and sore” is a common complaint of beginning cyclists.

This is the result of stiff and tense shoulders over long periods of time.  To remedy this, lower your shoulders.  Bring them down, away from your ears.  Concentrate on relaxing your shoulder muscles, and they will drop into a lower, more beneficial position.

After all, your shoulders do not propel the bike down the road.  So, do not tense them up.

Pay particular attention to your shoulders when you are climbing.  Yes, comfortable cycling is possible on hills.  I used to approach a climb with apprehension, so I tightened my jaw, clenched my fists around the handlebars, and tensed my shoulders muscles.  I was preparing for battle.

I was not helping myself climb – not at all!

The tightening of the shoulders does nothing to assist you in getting up the hill quicker.  In fact, you are wasting energy and setting yourself up for shoulder pain.

Relax the shoulders at the base of a climb and lower them several times while climbing.  Your legs need all the energy.

Lowering your shoulders has the added benefit of freeing up your head. As a result, you can turn your head easier to see other riders and traffic.

You will experience more comfortable cycling and be safer as a result of just lowering your shoulders.

There are other areas of posture just as important and rewarding.

Bend Those Elbows

“Hang on for dear life.  Brace yourself before that bump.”

That is bad advice that my mind used to give me instinctively.

Handlebars are ridged.  They will never move.  They do not absorb any shock from the road.

Your arms are the shock absorber for the handlebars.  Keeping them ridged in anticipation of a bump could bring on an injury or even cause a fall.

Do not grasp the handlebars tightly.  This goes for gripping the drops or the hood.

Correct cycling posture also includes keeping your elbows at your side.  They should not be up and out like a bird’s wings.  That will create more drag and slow you down.  Spread-eagle elbows will also cause your shoulders to tense up and ache later on.

Riding with relaxed, bent elbows allows your arms to serve as a shock absorber. For example, if you hit a pothole or bump in the road, your arms can help you absorb and endure the blow.

Keep your elbows bent without turning or bending your wrists. Instead, hold your wrists straight from your forearm down to your fingers.  Bending your wrists over long periods of time can cause numbness in your hands.  That is not a good feeling and can even result in loss of control of the bike.

Don’t Bend The Spine 

The position of the handlebars on most bikes is low enough that it forces you you bend over while riding.  Bend over from the hips.  Do not arch your spine.

One of the major complaints I hear from beginning cyclists is, “My back hurts after a ride.”

That pain is usually the result of bending or twisting your spine as you peddle.

To keep your spine straight, you need to have a strong core.  Butterfly situps and side bends will strengthen your core.  Make them part of your exercise routine.

Keeping the core strong is essential for correct cycling posture. In addition, that core strength will take pressure off many joints, resulting in less soreness and fewer injuries.

Keep the Knees Moving Straight Up and Down

I live in Texas.  I used to think it was just a Texas thing to be bull-legged.  It came from ridding horses or bulls.  I now know for certain that bull-legged cycling is not just a Texas thing.  Many cyclists peddle with their legs bowed out perpendicular to the bike frame.

First off, it looks rather funny to me.  Knees bowing out to the side may buy you some additional room on a group ride or in the peloton.  That might be the only benefit of bull-legged cycling.

Appearance aside, there are some real downsides to not having your knees moving straight up and down.  Knees bowing out the side is very inefficient.  Some of your potential wattage production is lost.  For the same amount of energy, you could be more powerful by simply pulling your knees in parallel to the bike frame.

More importantly, the practice of bull-legged riding can cause strain and ultimately injury to your knee.

Check Your Posture Regularly

If you are a beginning rider or want to improve your comfort and performance, check that you are regularly using the correct cycling posture for a few months, and you will feel the difference.

It takes time to break old habits.  So, stay focused on correct cycling posture for a while.

Develop a checklist and repeat it to yourself a couple of times each ride.

Please read our other helpful Cycling Health posts.


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