Even if you aren’t analyzing power and cadence data for hours (like I was), you can tell the difference between a rider like Matt, who is using Execution to get the most out of his available power, and a rider like Jim, who is missing out on a ton of speed and momentum. If you have watched enough bike racing and know what to look for, you’ll see it in their body positions.
Throughout my coaching, I’ve seen that the riders who were unable to perform well despite having a lot of power to work with were falling short in three key scenarios. In these scenarios, body position can easily give you an extra 20 or 30 watts to work with. The first was when a rider needed to maintain high speed and high cadence on a fast, flat section of road or a downhill. They simply couldn’t stay above their Power Floor. The second area where I realized my athletes were falling short due to body position was on climbs where they needed to hold high power and high cadence while standing. The third and final area was sprinting while seated. Most cyclists can fake their way through a standing sprint, but without proper body position, riders fell apart when I asked them to produce high wattage while seated.
In all of these situations, body position was being hindered by three areas, or Points of Power: hands, hips, and feet. How do you hold the handlebars? Are your arms stiff and straight, perhaps like the way Frankenstein’s monster might ride a bike? You need to reanimate the arms - get them bent and responsive instead. Straight-armed cyclists rest with the bars in the palms of their hands. With straight arms, it’s impossible to pull on the bars to generate power, move the bike freely beneath you, or to rock it back and forth while climbing or sprinting.
As you’ll see in the eight Body Position videos that follow below, you should be resting on the heels of your hands, and this will free up your elbows to move and flex.
The biggest problem I see with the second Point of Power, the hips, is that riders do not have enough core strength, or they are not engaging it to drive their pedal stroke. I am a huge proponent of off-the-bike strength work to improve your core. But when it comes to body position, one of the biggest mistakes people make is they let their pelvis sit straight up on the bike, like they’re in a chair at their desk in the office. They end up unable to use the upstroke of their pedal stroke, cutting off the glutes, hip flexors, and hamstrings from contributing to their power.
Instead, you should be titling your hips forward and engaging your core muscles. This gives you more power on the downstroke and frees up the rest of your leg muscles to contribute on the pedal upstroke.
The third and final Point of Power is your feet. It might be easy to overlook the feet because, after all, they’re just connecting your legs to the pedals. Your quads are where all the power comes from, right? Although your feet and ankles aren’t necessarily generating the power your need to ride fast, they guide your legs through the entire pedal stroke. Usually, I see two extremes with athletes’ feet, and both hold them back. On one hand, riders who had once been told to “scrape the mud” off their shoes at the bottom of the pedal stroke greatly exaggerate the motion of dropping their heels. They end up not actually engaging their upstroke. On the other hand, some riders keep a perfectly flat foot through the whole pedal stroke. When I see this, I just imagine them on the elliptical machine in their local health club. Instead of pushing their power into the pedals, they’re just supporting their own body weight. In this position, they cannot engage their hip flexors and hamstrings to pull up. They end up wasting half of the pedal stroke this way.
As you might expect, I advocate finding the happy medium between an over exaggerated heel drop and a flat foot. It is a little hard to learn at first, and it can depend on ankle flexibility and cleat placement, but the heel is the key. Looking at the pedal stroke like a dial on a clock, your heel should be down from 1 o’clock to 5 o’clock. Then, it snaps up at the bottom of the stroke and stays up over the top of the clock before dropping again to start the cycle again. Your foot is never really flat when you pedal like this. It won’t come naturally, and you’ll need to practice it, but when you begin engaging all of the other muscles in your legs—hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors, and calves—you’ll see the difference.
Climbing Body Positions
Standing Power Climbs Body Position (For Maintaining Speed)
Seated Power Climbs Body Position (For Maintaining Speed)
Standing Acceleration Climbs Body Position (For Building Speed)
Seated Acceleration Climbs Body Position (For Building Speed)
Flat Terrain Body Positions
Standing Power Flats Body Position (For Maintaining Speed)
Seated Power Flats Body Position (For Maintaining Speed)
Standing Acceleration Flats Body Position (For Building Speed)
Seated Acceleration Flats Body Position (For Building Speed)