How to maximize your workout with proper cycling form

Maybe you got the basics of balancing, steering and breaking down decades ago. But there are nuances to proper cycling form that you probably never learned while you were bouncing on the pavement in your banana seat.

If you’re spending hours in the saddle each week seeking greater fitness, you need to get serious about your cycling form. Here’s why your form matters, as well as how to fix it.

Why is proper cycling form important?

Women's Stationary Bike Spin Class |  Cycling form

In a 50-minute ride, you can pedal 4,000 times. That’s 4,000 repetitions of a single exercise.

Do it right, and cycling will build stamina, strength and power. But if your form is off — even slightly — that 50-minute ride offers 4,000 opportunities to sustain an overuse injury.

“Cycling with bad form can often lead to discomfort, such as lower back pain if you’re too far from the handlebars,” says BODi instructor Justin Flexen.

Other positioning mistakes include placing your seat too close to your handlebars, which can lead to knee pain; Or keep your seat too low, which can cause hip pain.

But injury prevention isn’t the only reason to focus on proper cycling form and setup. “Good form ensures that you have a comfortable and efficient ride,” adds Flexen. This translates into more speed, power and fitness — not to mention way more fun.

4 Tips for Proper Cycling Form

How to make sure your form stays on-point throughout your ride.

1. Determine the appropriate seat height

Women's Setting Seat Height Fixed Bike |  Cycling form

Your legs are strongest near the lock-out position, so adjust your saddle (seat) height to take advantage of this.

“Riders often put their saddle too low,” says Flexen. This can lead to knee, hip and lower back pain — not to mention slower, less efficient pedaling. “Not only that, but a high seat is a much more comfortable — and powerful — position,” adds Flexen.

Flexen recommends raising your saddle to hip height when you stand next to your bike. Make any necessary adjustments from there.

2. Keep your hips level

Rear View Fixed Bike Hips |  Cycling form

When you are riding, your weight should rest evenly on both of your sit bones, with minimal shifting left or right. If you feel the side of your hip move with each stroke — especially if it’s uneven — you’ll likely develop lower back pain over time.

Solution: Carefully stretch your hips before each ride, pulling each knee toward your chest to release tension that closes your hips.

Still bobbing left and right? Try the next step…

3. Pay attention to your hands

Man riding stationary bicycle hand positioning  Cycling form

Of course, cycling is a lower-body sport. But the position of your arms determines the angle of your torso – which, in turn, determines how much power your hips can generate.

Position the seat to reach the handlebars without straining your lower back and straining your shoulders. “You should be able to rest your hands comfortably on the base of the handlebars,” says Flexen. “You should be able to lift your chest and drop your shoulders and be comfortably away from your ears.”

4. Keep back when you stand

Woman standing on saddle stationary bike  Cycling form

Standing in the saddle, and taking your full weight on each pedal stroke, gives you a significant power boost as you accelerate, grind through steep climbs, or push up short inclines.

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. Which puts unnecessary stress on the knee.

Instead, he says, “keep your hips back so you can maintain contact with the saddle.” This allows your knees to stay behind your toes, preventing pain and irritation in your joints.

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