Posture and Performance on the Bike

So what is optimal posture ?

  • Optimal posture (middle) occurs when the earlobe, tip of the shoulder, hip joint and outside bump (malleolus) of the ankle all line up on a plumb line.
  • ‘Poor" posture can lead to mechanical problems, dysfunction and pain from structures that are mechanically stressed by the sub-optimal arrangement
  • It is normal to have a spine that curves however extreme curves such as those in the R + L pictures place extra stress on the joints, ligaments and muscle in those areas
  • Extremes of posture often result in tight and weak areas on opposing sides of the body and they can often become asymmetrical
As cycling is a symmetrical sport it is important to keep a close eye on areas of increased tightness particularly if they are asymmetrical

How does poor posture affect your riding position?

  • Cyclists need extremely good flexibility in their hamstrings, gluteals, calves and latissimus dorsi muscles.
  • Good flexibility in these muscles allows the cyclist to tilt their pelvis forward anteriorly (figure 1)  which allows:
    • Better activation through the gluteal muscles
    • Improved stability of the pelvis on the saddle
    • A gradual curve in the spine with resultant reduction in stress. This can lead to improved lung function as the rib cage is able to expand further as the chest is open.
    • Improved stability as the rider’s centre of gravity is over the bottom bracket and not behind it
    • Improved stability as the hands/arms are able to pull on the bars and not just rest on them

Figure 2: This cyclist cannot tilt their pelvis. Thus their position on the bike is poor and appears as though they are reaching too far forward. Their chest and rib cage expansion are limited (try breathing in deeply as you slouch! It does not work well)

Figure 3: This is the cyclist in the top postural picture. Note the large curve in the mid back in standing. This is reflected when on the bike

So how does poor riding posture affect your spine ?

The spine is made out of 4 main structures:

  • Vertebrate- provide stability and strength
  • Discs - b/w each vertebrate and provide shock absorption and mobility
  • Ligaments- provide strength and mobility
  • Muscles- provide strength, mobility and flexibility

The most commonly injured structure in the spine is the disc. Spinal discs are like jam donuts: they have an inner section (jam) and an outer section (donut). If you bend forwards the jam pushes to the back section of the donut and vice versa if you lean backwards.

Over time, if you have poor posture in sitting or riding the jam section of the disc can begin to push through into the donut. This can create a small bulge in the disc as seen in the picture. Bulging discs are common and not always painful however if they progress further the jam can push completely through the donut which is called a herniated disc. This disc may push on the spinal nerves and can refer down into the legs. These can be extremely painful and can lead to surgery.

The lumbar spine’s lowest two spinal segments, L4- L5 and L5-S1, which include the vertebrae and discs, bear the most weight and are therefore the most prone to degradation and injury.

DON’T KNOW WHERE TO START ? Take a look in the mirror at your posture, find the stretching sheet from the previous newsletters and get started, video yourself on the bike and make a list of your problem areas. Practice over and over again. Posture starts when you get up in the morning…make the most of it, you only get one back!