The quadriceps and gluteal muscles are the primary cycling muscles, but the hamstrings, hip flexors, calves and shin muscles also help pedal. The quadriceps are responsible for pushing down on the pedals, which generates the most power in the pedal stroke.
Because cycling is a cardiovascular exercise, muscular endurance-building activity, and strength-building activity, it can be a means to reach many fitness goals. Cycling is also a non-impact activity that is easy on your joints.
Bad form doesn’t just feel weird; it can lead to a sore lower back or extra-tense shoulders. Basically, you’re not doing your body any favors.
You already know how to set up your bike like a pro. Now it’s time to ride like one. There are 3 main positions that most instructors will rotate through. The outline below should be used as a general guide, since variations do exist. Master each one to ace your next ride.
How to Ride Properly in Every Position:
- Place hands where the brakes would be on a regular bike (also known as the hoods).
- As another variation, you can place your hands on the middle of the handlebars.
- Sit on the saddle and allow the torso to hinge forward naturally at the hip.
- Engage core to keep a straight back.
- Relax neck and shoulders, and minimize movement in the upper body.
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- From position 1, rise out of the saddle while keeping hands on the sides of the handlebars, close to the body.
- Hover butt over saddle, engaging core and glutes.
- You should almost feel your butt brush the saddle.
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- From position 2, bring hands forward to the ends of the handlebars.
- With back straight, core and glutes engaged, continue to hinge forward slightly so you can keep a natural bend in arms, and butt is back, hovering over the saddle.
- You should feel your core, glutes, hamstrings, and quads doing the work—with no discomfort or tension in the low back, neck, or shoulders.
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Common Cycling Mistakes:
If you find yourself making any of the mistakes below, refer back to position 1 above. And don’t forget to check in with your form. As you get tired, it’s common to relax your core, arch your back, or start compensating in other ways.
The trick is to find a good balance between working up a sweat and working so hard that you can’t maintain good form. When in doubt, lower your resistance and slow down.
You’re all over the place in the saddle:
- Your elbows are out, your back isn’t straight, and you’re hanging onto the bike like your life depends on it.
- It can be easy to lose good form when you get breathless and tired—but try to hang in there!
- The best advice I would tell anyone is to use common sense.
- Would you ever walk with your back totally hunched over?
- Nope. Then don’t do it on the bike either.
- If you feel tension, strains, or stress in some part of your body as you ride, don’t push through.
- Take a deep breath and readjust.
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You tuck your hips under when out of the saddle:
- If you rise out of the saddle and tuck your hips, you immediately force your back into flexion.
- You place unnecessary pressure on your low spine (your lumbar).
- It’s the reason so many people often complain of a sore back after a cycling class.
- Untuck your hips and send your butt back to hover over the saddle.
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You ride too far forward like you’re leading a charge:
- Riding like you’re about to leap off your bike won’t make it happen any faster.
- This position, like the one above, puts unnecessary strain on your back, and if you’re on the tall side, it could cause you to hit your knees on the handlebars (ouch!).
- Relax your posture and keep your hips back toward the saddle.
- Make sure your knees never go past the resistance knob on the bike.
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Your toes point down, and you hunch your back:
- If you’re hunched over Quasimodo style, you might not be engaging your core enough.
- You don’t need to point your toes toward the ground with each rotation.
- Often people will sprint the flat roads with their toes, he says, and climb the hills with their heels, but you actually want to hold a more neutral foot position throughout your ride.
- Lift your head so there’s a straight line from neck to back and think about creating perfect circles with your pedal stroke.
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You move side to side like you’re in a music video:
- We love a good dance party—just not during a bike ride.
- Though it can be easy to get caught up in the bumping beats of your fave songs, too much upper-body movement could cause a sore back or worse, a back injury.
- If you’re following the natural movement of your body, there will be some side to side.
- But if you overexaggerate the movement, you may lose control, and that makes you more susceptible to injury.
- Engage core to keep weight centered over the bike and minimize bounce.
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You put all your weight into your arms:
- Push-ups are a great way to build upper-body strength, but this isn’t the place to practice.
- As you get tired, bearing down on your arms might feel better because you’re relieving your legs and glutes from doing some of the work.
- But trust us, you’re not actually doing your body any favors.
- Tensing your arms can lead to a sore neck, stiff shoulders, and a chain reaction of poor form through the rest of your body.
- Support the upper body with the core so shoulders and arms can relax and hands rest lightly on handlebars.