I’ve recently morphed from a public transportation devotee into a bonafide bicyclist. If you’re walking around in the East Village, at any given moment, there’s a (very) high chance I’ll come close to running into you on a CitiBike.
There’s also a pretty high chance that I’ll be riding around with a curved back, resembling the stoop kids in Hey! Arnold (seriously—Google that show and you’ll discover that everyone on it had horrible posture). My new hobby has quickly made me realize that it’s actually pretty of difficult to get comfortable on a bike—I’m always alternating between sitting up in an awkwardly too-straight manner and slouching like I’m driving a convertible in a music video. There’s really no in between, and I just know I’m messing with my spine.
On a bicycle, you’re in a kind of weird position, so “shoulders back” and “chin up” and “stand up straight”—aka the commands that apply to proper posture everywhere else in your life—don’t really apply when you’re on a bike. “Because everyone’s built differently, what may work for one person may not work for someone else,” says Steven Struhl, MD, orthopedic surgeon. “But first and foremost, it’s important to try to remain as stress-free and relaxed as possible while cycling since it’ll keep you comfortable, increase efficiency, prevent injury, and promote easier breathing, among other benefits.”
One thing you should do is keep your shoulders down, away from your ears. “Some cyclists find that their shoulders can slowly creep up to their ears, causing stress on their shoulders, neck and back,” he says. Instead, he recommends angling your eyes downward instead of your head so you can avoid straining your neck and “help you easily turn your head while biking.”
With your arms, Dr. Struhl advises to have a slight bend in your elbows. “It’ll act as a suspension and keep you mobilized and help absorb any impact if you encounter bumps while biking,” he says. “And keep your elbows tucked in closer to your sides to reduce the stress and pressure on your shoulders, hands, and wrists.”
And, whatever you do—don’t round your spine like I sometimes do (whoops). “Keep your back straight, but not locked or tensed into a line,” says Dr. Struhl. “Rounding your back outwards can cause issues over time. Keeping your core engaged will ensure your back is staying straight, but not overly straight.”
It’s also important to pay attention to how you pedal, surprisingly enough. “One of the biggest mistakes I see is the knees collapsing and moving inward as the cyclist rotates the pedals,” says Danielle Weis, PT, DPT, a physical therapist. “Over time, as the knees repetitively fall inward with every rotation, this can cause pain due to poor force distribution within the knee joint.” You can also have a lot of strain on the parts inside your knee, and this can all lead to tightness and limited mobility.
If you’re riding around with back pain, Weis says to raise the handlebars. “This allows the spine to remain more upright, taking some strain off the muscles and making it easier to keep in neutral alignment,” she says. Now I can stop riding on my bike like it’s a mobile couch.
Oh, and here’s how your sleep position can lead to better (or worse) posture. And facial posture is a thing, too—here’s what you need to know.
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