ASK COACH FRED

Should Better Flexibility Alter My Riding Position?

Question:

After doing yoga for 3 months, I'm a lot more flexible. Now my handlebar seems too high and too close. Do you think I should change my position to reflect my increased limberness? -- Basil D.

Coach Fred Matheny Replies: 

Yoga and other forms of stretching are great for flexibility and many riders have gotten benefits. There is plenty of time to incorporate this type of training into your winter workouts and enjoy the comfort advantages of a more limber body in the coming season. (And many riders tout the virtues of making such exercises a part of your year-round training.)

Your riding position is governed to a large extent by how flexible you are in the lower back and hamstrings. Andy Pruitt, Ed.D., director of the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine in Colorado, argues that if you can't touch your toes without bending your knees, you won't be able to maintain a low, relaxed riding position.

So, if you're now loose as a goose, you can probably improve your position with a longer stem and lower handlebar.

However, don't overlook this fact:  Flexibility is specific, just like the rest of training. In the same way that endurance gained by running doesn't transfer directly to cycling, so the ability to put your palms flat on the floor without bending your knees doesn't necessarily mean that you can sustain a low riding position.

When you do flexibility exercises, you're holding a stretch position for 10 or 15 seconds. But when you pedal, your low back and hamstrings stretch and shorten rhythmically with every pedal stroke. It's not the same thing.

If you try a lower and longer position, do it cautiously. Don't reduce bar height by more than a centimeter. Same for increasing stem length.

Use the new position for several rides to adapt and see how it feels. Good? Then you might want to stretch out a bit more. Don't go so far that you experience soreness or tightness ride after ride.

And don't forget that while a low position is more aerodynamic, it can compromise pedaling power. An ideal position balances power production, comfort and aerodynamics. This, and many other “fit factors,” is explained well in some of the eBooks on bike fit in RBR’s Bookstore: Andy Pruitt's Medical Guide for Cyclists, Dr. Arnie Baker's Bike Fit, and Bike Fit 101: Your Toolset for a Great Bike Fit.

Coach Fred Matheny has decades of experience as a competitive racer and cycling coach. He is the author of 13 RBR eBooks and eArticles.

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