Overcoming the challenges to maintain good cycling posture

By Chris Burnham

Allison keeps her shoulders back and chest tall while working out.Just as important as sleeping and nutrition, posture has a huge impact on an endurance athlete’s performance.

You often don’t hear a lot about posture in athletes, but there are a million articles about training core, some good some not so much, but good core training is all about maintaining good posture and a neutral spine. The best “core” activation comes from movements where proper spinal position is being challenged while the arms and legs are doing work. A good example is front squatting. Sit-ups and crunches don’t facilitate proper posture. Core muscles are about stability, not movement.

Why does posture matter?

Neural function peaks when the spine is held in proper posture. A spine in excessive flexion of extension will result in neural-inhibition that will down regulate force through the extremities. The bottom line is that to improve optimally as an endurance athlete, you need to have the best posture you can attain. The better the body can communicate neurologically, the better the muscle will function.

Endurance sports provide unique challenges to posture.

Fighting against gravity to maintain good posture is hard enough, but maintaining posture in a prone position on the bike is even harder.  This becomes even more difficult when you add in the pounding of rough roads or trails on the mountain bike.  For example, for every inch forward your head is of midline it adds 10 pounds of pressure on your cervical spine.   Every bump on the road will add extra force and make the head come farther forward, which in turn it makes it harder to look up the road.  This will also lead into more thoracic or lumbar flexion as the miles accumulate. 

An important skill for everyone, athlete or not, is gaining kinesthetic awareness.

Do you know when you are in a bad position? Do you know what a good position is? This can be a bit overwhelming in the beginning but think about a few key points. Are your shoulders back, chest tall? Is your head jutting forward or are your ears in line with your shoulders? Are you slightly bracing your abdominals and lower back muscles to prevent excessive lordosis or curvature in your lower back? Pick one or two of these and check periodically throughout the day.

One tool that can help quite a bit to increase kinesthetic awareness on the bike is the use of kinesio tape.  Before you get on the bike you set yourself in a position of good posture.  You then apply kinesio tape to either side of the spine from the lumbar spine up to the base of the your head.  The tape won’t hold you in good position but as soon as you start to go into excessive flexion or extension the tape will create tension along the skin giving you instant bio-feedback of when you are in a bad position.  This works incredibly well in time trials when athletes are trying to maintain proper aero position.