There’s a lot going on during a cycling workout–your body is working hard to push past your limits and your brain is in motivation mode making sure you feel mentally strong throughout every pedal stroke. But one thing you always need in the mix is correct cycling form to safely support all the work you’re putting in. Peloton instructors Christine D’Ercole and Robin Arzon discuss how to perfect your cycling form to make your workout more effective.
The Common Culprits
The best first step is to start with identifying common mistakes that pop up, sometimes even before you clip in. Christine suggest starting with your seat. “So often riders are either too low or high or too far forward or back in the saddle,” explains Christine. “These issues can cause discomfort in the joints as well as muscle engagement imbalances and reduced efficiency.” Christine’s rule of thumb is to make sure that when when the foot is at the bottom of the pedal stroke, there should be a slight bend in the knee; when the leg is in the front of the pedal stroke (think the 3:00 position on a clock face, looking at the drive side of the bike), the knee should be directly over the ball of the foot. “You’ll need to adjust the fore and aft of the saddle in order to achieve this alignment,” says Christine, “and you’ll also want to adjust your handlebars to make sure your reach is at a comfortable distance. It’s best to recruit a buddy to make sure your alignment is right, notes Christine, since they will have the best perspective to confirm that your setup looks correct.
Once you start pedaling, make sure your leg movement involves both pushing and pulling, says Robin. “Think: push forward, push down, pull backward and pull up–in that order,“ she explains. “Instead of looking like the up and down movement of a sewing machine, think of engaging your hamstrings and glutes to glide the pedal up in a circular motion.”
Another key to riding correctly is to make sure you always have a light grip on the handlebars. “If you feel the need to have a death grip, you likely need to add resistance,” says Robin. “Throughout the ride, check for any excess pressure on your wrists or in your hands, and if necessary, shift your weight back to where it belongs in your legs.” Don’t be afraid of that extra resistance making your workout impossible, either–it’s what will keep you riding over the long term. “Riding without enough resistance can wear on your joints, and cause injuries and discomfort,” she explains. “If you’re bouncing around in the saddle or jerky with leg movements, add enough resistance until it feels like the rubber meets the road–it should feel gritty even on flat roads and during active recoveries.”
Keep Yourself Accountable
The qualities of good cycling form–hinging forward at the hips slightly, little pressure on the back, knees, and wrists, and minimal rounding of your back and shoulders–can be consistently achieved when you check in regularly with your cycling form. Christine’s tip for this is take a moment at the beginning of every new song to see where you’re at. “Simply check in,” says Christine, “drop your shoulders, make sure your knees are straight ahead and take a moment to wiggle both your fingers and toes,” she explains. “As we ride, we tend to hold the tension of the effort in the parts of our bodies that are not helping to get the work done,” she notes. “Creating a healthy habit of checking in with yourself will help you to develop cycling form that will give you more power during the ride, making your workout that much more effective.”
Safety in Your Cycling Form
If your cycling form slips over time, you could cause damage throughout the body. “Cycling is a repetitive movement with limited range of motion,” explains Christine. “Improper alignment causes the body to recruit the muscles in a dysfunctional fashion and after a while this can be harmful to different areas.” She also notes that you should check in with your bike settings every six months in order to be sure you’re still riding with the right measurements. “Your fit can go along way towards keeping you safe from injury and setting you up for success and achieving your goals.”
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